This week, things take a bit of a turn for Joe. I had particular fun writing this one. I think it throws a bit of a curve ball (pun intended) into the story. Where will it go next? I’m not sure, but you’re welcome to join me and find out.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
Joe was dreaming that he was a teenager and he was cutting his parents lawn. He was cruising around on a riding lawnmower in the hot sun. The heat made him sweat profusely and he had trouble breathing. When he opened his eyes, he realized that he was sweating because the storage unit management apparently turned off the air conditioning at night. It was probably a cost-saving measure, but also went against the promise of full-time a/c and explained the musty smell in his possessions. Air conditioning not only cooled the air, but as the name indicates, it conditions the air by removing humidity.
It took Joe a couple of minutes to realize where he was. He then realized he was back in the storage unit. He could still hear the lawnmower. Finally, clarity set in. It wasn’t a lawnmower. It was Kenny (Jabba) putting around on his golf cart. Joe saw this as his chance to get out of the unit. He felt around in the dark for something he could use to beat on the door to get Kenny’s attention. Next to the sofa, his hand closed around something made of wood. He quickly realized it was a baseball bat. It would do the trick.
As the sound of the small motor on the golf cart increased in volume, Joe started hitting the door with the fat end of the bat. After about 20 seconds of doing this, Kenny apparently heard the noise. The sound of the motor stopped. Joe stopped hitting the door and called out.
“Hey, Can you get me out of here? Hey, I’m in here.”
“Who the hell are you and how the hell did you get locked in there?” Kenny yelled from the other side of the corrugated metal door.
“It’s me. Joe McLean.”
“Joe McLean? I don’t know who the hell that is. Do you own this unit?
“Yes, I do. We met yesterday. You cut off my lock for me.”
“Yesterday? I was off yesterday. I haven’t cut off a lock for anyone in a few weeks and it wasn’t on this unit.”
Joe realized this was probably part of the change in this timeline.
“Maybe it wasn’t you,” Joe lied. “Can you just get me out of here?”
“I hope you’ve got some cash. It costs money for me to get this lock off of your unit.”
Joe certainly remembered this part.
“Yes. I’ve got cash on me. Just get me out of here.”
“Alright. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
Joe heard the diminishing sound of the golf cart motor. He tried not to panic and hoped that, in this timeline, he had enough cash in his wallet. He couldn’t tell in the dark. He knew he had some bills in the money clip section of his wallet, but he couldn’t tell how much. He would soon find out as he heard the golf cart returning. The motor came to a crescendo and then stopped just outside the unit. He heard grunting and groaning and then the sound of the lock moving. The door began to slide upward and Joe saw the familiar face of Kenny. He was not happy.
“How the hell did you get locked in there?”
“I’m not sure. I think someone might not have realized I was in here and locked the door,” Joe said, making up the story as he went along.
“Was it the owner?” Kenny asked.
“What do you mean? I’m the owner.”
“You said your name is Joe McLean, right?”
“Well, when I went back to the office, I checked the record and this unit belongs to a Michael McLean. You’ve got some explaining to do.”
Joe felt the breath rush out of his lungs and a nausea rose in his stomach.
“Michael McLean? Are you sure?”
“I’m very sure. So who is he? You’re father?”
“No. He’s my brother.”
“He better be. I’m going to have to call him about this.”
“Do you have to?” Joe asked. “What if I give you a really nice tip? Would you still have to call?”
“Let’s talk about what you owe for the removal and replacement of the lock first. The charge is $200.”
Kenny’s price had gone up in this adjusted timeline.
Joe pulled out his wallet and looked at the money clip. He had a ten dollar bill and three ones. Not a good sign.
“Um, I don’t have all of the cash here. Let me drive to an ATM and I’ll get the rest for you.”
“Drive? Drive what? There’s no car out here,” Kenny revealed. “In fact, based on your clothes, I don’t think you have enough money to buy a car.”
Joe wasn’t sure what Kenny was talking about until he looked down. He was wearing blue jeans that looked like they hadn’t been washed in the past decade. He had on a threadbare shirt and shoes that were riddled with holes and cracks. He suddenly realized that his hair was much longer than usual and he had a significant beard. Both were matted and felt like they hadn’t been washed in a while. He started to panic.
“Okay. Can I use the phone in your office? I can call my brother and get this straightened out.”
Kenny let out an audible sigh.
“I guess. Tell him to bring cash.”
“I will,” Joe said.
He moved to climb into the cart.
“What do you think you’re doing? You stink. You’re not riding with me,” Kenny said. “You can walk up to the office.”
Joe shuffled along the concrete toward the office as Kenny sped away on the golf cart. He didn’t feel healthy. Also, his body was having cravings that he wasn’t familiar with. He instinctively reached into his shirt pocket and found a nearly empty pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes. He wasn’t sure why, but he pulled out one out and put it in his mouth. There was a matchbook tucked inside the cellophane. The cover of the matchbook advertised a dive bar on the south side of town. Where the hell did he get that? He struck the match and lit the cigarette taking a deep draw feeling the smoke deeply permeate his lungs. It felt strangely natural and soothing. He slowed his pace a bit so he could enjoy the cigarette, but finally reached the office with about half of it let. He climbed the three stairs and opened the door.
“You can’t smoke that in here,” Kenny said from his perch behind the counter.
“Oh. Sorry,” Joe said as he flicked the cigarette to the ground outside the door.
“Jesus. You can pick that up when you leave.”
Joe was struggling with this new dynamic between him and Kenny, but that was the least of his problems. The air conditioning in the office caused him to get a whiff of himself. Kenny was right. He stunk like a primordial mixture of body odors and fluids. He definitely didn’t smell like someone who had been recently acquainted with a shower or bath.
Kenny pointed to the phone on the counter.
“One local call and it better be to someone who can bring the 200 bucks you owe me.”
Joe dialed Mike’s cell phone number from memory. He hoped that it was still valid and that Mike would answer.
“This is Mike McLean,” his brother answered on the third ring.
There was the sound of road noise. Joe guessed that Mike was on his way to work.
“Mike, it’s Joe.”
There was an uncomfortable silence causing Joe to think the connection had been lost. It wasn’t.
“Joe. What the hell. Where have you been and what trouble are you in this time?”
Joe wasn’t quite sure what to say. The tone of his brother’s voice was tinged with disgust and not a small amount of anger.
“What do you mean, Mike. Have I been missing?” Joe asked knowing it was a stupid thing to say as soon as the words left his mouth.
“Yup. Three months this time. Where are you calling from? Are you in jail again?”
“Jail? No, Mike. I’m at Langerton Deluxe Storage. I was…um…I was locked in your storage unit. The manager let me out.”
“Locked in my storage unit. What the hell, Joe. How did you even know I had one? It has all of your shit in it. I didn’t know what to do with it after the…Never mind. What do you need this time?”
Joe wasn’t quite sure, but started with what Kenny wanted.
“I have to pay the manager for removing and replacing the lock and then, I suppose I need a ride home.”
“Money. Of course Joe. That’s what you always need. How much this time?”
“Well, he said $200. I’ll pay you back.”
“Jesus, Joe. That’s a lot of money. And just how are you going to pay me back? Are you working?”
Now Joe was really perplexed.
“Sure, Mike. At the firm. You work there too.”
“The firm? Have you been hitting the bottle again, Joe. The firm is gone. It’s all gone. Never mind. I’ll be there in about 20 minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”
Joe handed the phone back to Kenny who sprayed it liberally with Lysol. As he moved toward the guest chair, Kenny gave him a look.
“No way, buddy. You wait outside. When you’re brother gets here, send him in with the money. I don’t want you back in this office. You reek. It’s going to take a while to get that smell out of here.”
Joe exited the office and sat on the curb at the edge of the parking lot to wait for Mike. He tried to guess what the hell had happened. He had successfully stopped the merger. How was the firm gone and how was he in such dire straits.
While he was alone in his thoughts, he saw his brother’s F-350 pickup turning into the lot. It looked like it had a bit of mileage on it and there was the beginnings of surface rust above the tires on the fenders. His brother pulled up to where Joe was sitting and rolled down the passenger window.
“Get in,” Mike said with that same tone of disgust and anger.
Joe got in and was deeply disturbed by the look on Mike’s face.
Mike got out of the truck and headed into the office. He was gone for about two minutes and came back to the driver’s side of the truck. He opened the door and depressed the button to roll down the windows.
“Jesus. That smell was you. When’s the last time you had a bath?”
Joe slumped in the passenger seat of the truck. This question, along with many others, was one he couldn’t answer and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer.