Sunoco by Chris / Flickr
The two men drove the rented car on the Expressway up from the airport. They were looking for Anderson Road. Once they found Anderson Road, they would look for the Sunoco station on the corner of it and Linebaugh, and then for the Puerto Rican that ran it.
It was not a long drive. Under different circumstances, it could have been pleasant even, so the men talked. They talked softly, without raising their voices, but steadily, as if something was about to happen and they would be part of it.
“So this guy’s a manic-depressive?” Stanley asked.
“A manic-depressive, which according to Jung, or Adler, I forget which, is most susceptible.”
“One of the four basic personality types. Wait a minute. Shouldn’t he be choleric or something? You know – hot-tempered."
Oliver answered. “The four basic personality types have been re-organized or reconstituted or basically shuffled around. This has to do with Darwinism. One got killed off. There are three left.” Oliver held up three fingers. “There is manic-depressive, schizophrenic, and introverted. It all boils down to that. The scientists have figured out that no matter who you are, there is something wrong with you, like our friend here, the owner of the filling station.”
“What happened to the choleric type?”
“Choleric is actually a sub-category of manic-depressive. They are almost interchangeable. The new technique should work. If it doesn’t, we go back to the old way.”
The men came up upon a turnoff that led to Anderson Road. The Puerto Rican half-owner would be watching the station tonight, mid-week, alone. He was having trouble finding people to work for him. He was not paying his bills. Any of them. He would have his revolver stashed behind the counter, though, just in case. No one had told Oliver and Stanley how many bills were outstanding, but since they had been called in, it didn’t matter. It was past the time for discussing accounts receivable. There was a hotel at Anderson Road and some scrubby looking lowland. That was the landmark they’d been told about. They only needed to go a little further.
“And the manic-depressive,” Oliver continued, “Is subject to gigantic mood swings. Sometimes he’s up, sometimes down. When he’s way down,” Oliver demonstrated by lowering his hand palm down, “He’s vulnerable. So we’ll give this technique a shot.” Then he turned to Stanley and laughed, as if a very clever pun had just been made.
“I hope it works with a guy like this,” said Stanley. “This could be a turning point in how we do business, where we no longer think of a bullet as a random, isolated object. Now the bullet becomes the extension of an unhappy, desperate individual, eager to end up being one with the bullet and nothingness.”
Wow,” said Oliver. “For you, that’s a real mouthful.”
“I’ve been reading that thick book you gave me. The one by Sartre, one inch thick.” Stanley held up one finger.
“You read it all?”
“About five sixteenths.” Stanley tentatively held up five fingers, then tried showing sixteen fingers as the denominator, but gave up and shrugged.
“I got the Swede, you know,” Oliver bragged.
“You got the Swede?” Stanley said. The Swede was another lowlife who didn’t pay his bills.
“Back in the day. With a Glock 19.”
“Things were simpler then,” Stanley sighed. The men saw the Sunoco sign up ahead. Anderson Road was quiet. The only car on it was theirs. Each man could feel his pulse tighten, the systolic doing a little dance above the diastolic as Oliver pulled the car into the empty area with the gas pumps sitting idle. The lights were dim, like the owner didn’t expect or even want any business. The traffic light changed at the corner, but no traffic passed either way. Both men took all this in and nodded to each other. Oliver got out of the car.
Oliver went inside with a twenty dollar bill. The Puerto Rican half-owner stood behind the counter with an expressionless face. “Let’s see how much of this I can put in my car,” he smiled. The Puerto Rican returned a weak smile and took the bill.
Outside, Oliver pumped gas into the car he’d picked up. “Fifty cents,” he said. “I’ve got some change coming.”
This time both men went in. “You got fifty cents worth of gas?” the owner said.
“Times are slow,” Oliver said.
“Very slow,” echoed Stanley.
The Puerto Rican shrugged and made change.
“Look at it outside,” Oliver continued. “No business. The economy is terrible. Nobody wants to buy anything.”
“Lots of truth in that,” the owner said.
“People have bought and bought and bought, running their debt up to here,” he held a hand mid-chest, indicating a rising water level of debt that would soon drown them all. “Now they got nothing to spend. Look outside. No traffic. Everyone’s home, reading the funny papers.”
“The funny papers,” Stanley repeated. “They’re all home.”
The owner nodded.
Oliver leaned forward. “So where’s home, partner?”
“Bayamon. In Puerto Rico.”
“Bayamon! That’s where they play El Serie del Caribe, the Spanish World Series."
"Well, they did once or twice.” His voice was flat.
“You know what? Things are so bad, even in Puerto Rico, that you can’t even get mofongo any more. The economy tanked.”
“Really?” the Puerto Rican said. “I never heard that.”
“Everyone was feeling euphoric, excited and impulsive. Then they suddenly got sad and started dropping like flies, como moscas.”
The Puerto Rican got quiet and stared at the men who just bought fifty cents worth of gas.
“They couldn’t pay their bills. When you’re dead broke, you might as well be dead.”
The Puerto Rican continued to stare.
“When things get hopeless, sometimes it’s best to just give up. If you can’t pay your bills, things might get even worse, you know? Hey, you got family here too, amigo?”
The men had been waiting for this moment. “No family here, eh?” Oliver began. “Not even at Lake Magdelene?”
It was then that the Puerto Rican knew. His eyes got that cancelled look, just like the Swede’s eyes did before he got it. The Swede knew, but he waited for it. It was not good to wait for it. It was better to just take care of it yourself. Oliver thought about all those buried tanks outside - full of gasoline that hadn’t been paid for, just waiting there, all their hydrocarbons, cycloalkanes and olefins sharing the collective misery of not knowing when or if ever they would rush through the carburetor of a Mustang or a Charger. It would have been better if they had never been refined.
Oliver had made his point. The Puerto Rican had that glum look on him. The Swede had begged and blubbered for Oliver not to kill him. The Puerto Rican wouldn’t blubber. Nobody blubbers in Español. When you’ve got it coming to you, you take it like a man. The Puerto Rican knew what he had to do, and it had nothing to do with mofongo.
The men left with nineteen dollars and fifty cents in change and walked back to the car and sat. The lights from a lone truck flashed on Anderson Road, making a delivery of something to someone that nobody could pay for because the economy stunk. Then the lights all went out in the Sunoco station at Anderson and Linebaugh because the Puerto Rican decided, for whatever reason, to economize this late in the game.
Then a single shot rang out in the night.
“Glock. Or Smith and Wesson,” said Stanley.
“Jung,” corrected Oliver. “When a rat is cornered, he becomes a chicken.”
“Jung said that?” Stanley asked.
“Him or Adler or Kierkegaard. The three of them are practically interchangeable.” Then Oliver turned the car around and drove it back to Tampa International, the taillights becoming a red smudge, silent in the dusk, save for the counterpoint of two thinkers probing the depths of the greasiness and perpritude that lie in the hearts of men who devise new ways to solve the old problem of how to dispose of a rat.
Paul Smith writes poetry & fiction. He lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife Flavia. Sometimes he performs poetry at an open mic in Chicago. He believes that brevity is the soul of something he read about once, and whatever that something is or was, it should be cut in half immediately.