The story so far:
My fingers shook as I fumbled with the key ring. My voice was coarse, “Which key is it?”
“The blue one.”
I slipped the key into the lock, and with a thick click the door swung open.
“Thank you, Jackie. Why don’t we do lunch today, buddy?”
“I’ve got plans.”
“No, you don’t. We’ll do lunch. I’ll meet you out front, say 11:45? Don’t be late, Jackie. Do not be late.”
I nodded, which was more than my spine could handle. My head felt the size of an oversized pumpkin. Neal shuffled away, whistling a little something under his breath, the crate snug in his arms.
“Wait, your keys!” But my voice was a dry whisper, not much more than a croak really, and Neal was gone. His keys were still in the door. I slipped them in my pocket and walked back out the front door and into the morning sun.
There was a smoking section on the south side of the building. Not more than a square of browning sod, with an iron bench, a metal ashtray/trash can combo, and a view of the backside of the building. I made it to the bench without looking up, head still heavy and keys still dragging the right side of my pants down and inch or so. My cigarettes were in my left pocket and I pulled one out, lit it and tried to clear my head.
What the **** now?
On one hand, I thought I just saw Neal give me The Business and tote a crate jammed full of packing peanuts and pipe bombs inside the Parcels and Post Warehouse, where I, along with more than a hundred others worked. I thought I just heard Neal, Mister Good Day Sunshine himself, effectively tell me that if I said anything to anyone about what I thought I knew, he’d blow up my house, my kids. My wife too, but she might just have that coming. If Neal had threatened to Hiroshima her and her scrawny, scar faced, **** buddy, Vince that she thought I’d never know about, I might’ve offered him whatever I had in my wallet, a beer and a high five. I flicked my smoke on the ground, thinking about the ashcan only after it sailed from my fingers.
On the other hand, Neal was a **** ‘tard. That was a given. It made zero sense that the living version of Ned Flanders would A) know what a pipe bomb was; B) know where to get a pipe bomb; and C) have any motive or desire to blow anything or anyone (My family? My kids, for Christ sake?) to smithereens.
Or maybe I just have one **** of a hangover. Better yet, maybe I’m still drunk.
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket, giving me a jolt. Jesus, I’m turning into a pansy. Now it’s the big, bad, cell phone coming for me.
Caller I.D. said Unknown. My pants dropped another half inch with the weight of the keys and I flipped the phone open and barked a hello.
My stomach sank with the sugar dipped voice of Crazy on the other end of the line.
“Just wanted to remind you that you should use the ashtray, Jackie. That’s why it’s there. Littering is for losers.”
I cut my eyes to the butt smoldering on the ground. Slowly, I turned, giving the entire south side of the building a slow once-over. No one. No windows, save for the small bank of vent windows just below the roof line, some forty feet up. This side of the building was all brick, and mortar.
“Are you watching me, prick face?” My palms were slick and my throat was on fire.
“Of course not, Jackie. Then again maybe so. Does that bother you?”
“Yea. It does.”
“Well, let’s talk about it at lunch then.” Neal giggled into the phone. “Don’t forget now.”
I slammed the phone closed and stuffed it into my pocket. I needed to call my wife. I needed to figure out if I was going completely out of my mind. I needed to figure out what was actually in the crate.
My phone vibrated in my pocket a second time. A shrill cry escaped my traitorous mouth, and I resisted the urge to throw the phone.
“It’s Patrick up at security. I need to see you when you get a minute. Can you stop by my office?”
Office? More like square box with a stool and a monitor, but whatever. “Why?”
My heart was doing that little pansy-dance again.
“Oh, it’s nothing much, but I can’t talk about it on the phone.”
“Alright. I just finished a smoke.” I eyeballed the still burning butt on the ground. “I’ll be there in five.”
I didn't know if heading to Patricks office was such a great idea. Then again, the coincindental timing of the phone call was pretty suspect. Maybe Patrick knew about Neal. Maybe Neal told Patrick I was the nut job and left a suspicious crate by the elevators. Maybe Patrick wants to have lunch too. Who the **** knew anything on a morning like this.
My thoughts turned back to the cigarette butt, and the phone call. The cigarette was out, finally. The last wisps of blue smoke were long gone. It felt prophetic. Or damning. I didn’t know the difference. I left the butt where it lay, and made my way back to the front doors.