I work twice a week in a slightly sketchy part of town, back in the woods, off the beaten path, in an office where I often work alone. Usually my days there pass without incident or visitors. I answer phones (if it happens to ring). I pay the bills. I get on Facebook. The customers who do enter the office are generally older men—usually breathing laboriously while they lean on a cane—and they do not pose a threat to me, even in my typically overactive imagination. But the nearby interstate drowns out any warning of anyone approaching, so I keep the doors locked at the suggestion of my boss (even though I’m skeptical of the ability of a locked door being able to hold back a determined killer. I see the shows and know they always have ways).
Three weeks ago or so, a man knocked on the door. Knocked, because the doors were locked, of course. I left my lunch and opened the door to a quiet, middle-aged man dressed in a jumpsuit typical of an auto mechanic. I let him in and he nodded shyly. This is the part I hate the most: customers. It’s just a summer job, so I know nothing about the business (building garages and barns); yet, here I am, left to muddle through as best I can with the occasional unannounced customer, darn them. They ask me questions like, “does 100 square feet sound like a large enough building for my purposes?” or “what wind speed can this particular building material handle?” I don’t know, sir, I only work here.
So, as this customer (to whom I’ve already mentally assigned the name “Mr. Mechanic”…because he’s a mechanic. Witty, I know) lobs various construction related questions my way, I, in turn, parry them with vague non-answers. I’m a pro at these. Ultimately, after several minutes of getting nowhere, I make the suggestion that I take his name and number and have my boss call him back. Mr. Mechanic shakes his head and steps aside a little. “I don’t want to mess with that, I don’t know what I want yet.” I explain that my boss can help him determine what he needs, except he’s not in the office on Tuesdays. “I ain’t in no rush,” Mr. Mechanic says, and he heads for the door. I tell him once more to come back any other day but Tuesday to speak with my boss. With his hand on the doorknob, the man pauses and turns to me:
“So you work here alone on Tuesdays, eh?”
And just like that, I realize I’ve made the dumbest mistake in the book. As I hesitatingly nod, he changes the subject.
“You like chicken?”
I look down at the Zaxby’s that has patiently been waiting for my return.
“Yeah,” I say.
He makes some small talk and I answer his questions politely. Now I want him to leave, and thankfully a few minutes later he does.
Next week, I’m sitting at my desk and someone knocks on the door. I open it to find none other than Mr. Mechanic standing on the other side.
“Oh, it’s Tuesday again, isn’t it?” he says, and he kind of slaps his forehead.
“Yes sir, I’m afraid it is.”
He steps in anyway and takes a few paces around the room. I, in turn, sit behind my desk. Zaxby’s sits once again in front of me.
“Got yourself chicken again, I see.”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
He turns to the window and looks out for awhile. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch again,” he says to the window, “I just come by when I think about it.”
“Well, that’s fine, sir, give me your name and number and I’ll have my boss call you today.”
“Naw, I don’t want to bother with it.”
“I can call him and you can be on the phone with him this minute, shall I do that?”
“Naw. Don’t know what I want, yet.”
I suppress a sigh of exasperation and instead try again.
“Well, sir, my boss is the one who can help you decide what you need. I simply answer the phones.”
Still looking out the window, he nods a little bit. “I need a building for my incinerator.” Then he looks out the corner of his eye and smiles at me. “I guess I need a metal building for that, huh?”
Annnnd now the alarms are going off in my head. I’ve seen the crime shows, and I know how it works. I ask again for his name and number. I say, once more, that, um, well, my boss would really know all about that—but this time I want his name in writing for an entirely different reason. Just in case I should, say, end up as a heap of ashes in Mr. Mechanic’s yet-to-be-purchased metal building, a name in writing would be a good place for the homicide detectives to start. Once more, though, he declines to leave his name, takes a card, and leaves. I return to my chicken and mull over the odds that Mr. Mechanic is really Mr. Serial Killer. I know he’s not, really… but I wonder anyway.
It’s times like these that I truly love my roommate. Leisel humors me and I appreciate this. I think she knows that I know that Mr. Mechanic is really just a shy man interested in building a garage, but the dots all connect too well; it’s too good of a story. And so, I tell it to the best of my ability. Only Mr. Mechanic’s name is now Mr. Incinerator because that has a more menacing ring. I tell her what he looks like, what kind of car he drives, and every word he said. She acts appropriately creeped out and gasps at all the right places, but we smile and laugh the whole time. She pretends to make mental notes of what to tell the police after I’ve fallen victim to the incinerator and we laugh at our morbidity. As I tell the story, though, we both know that I am honestly just the teensiest bit uncomfortable about the situation. And we laugh at that, too.
And so, last week, I made a decision while driving to work on Tuesday morning. Did I think Mr. Mechanic is a crazy killer? Not really. Did I think he might show up once again this Tuesday? Possibly. Would I be there? Heck no. I decide that since he’s shown up the past two weeks at 12:30, I will not leave to get my lunch until then. I will go to Moe’s because it takes longer to get there and back. With any luck, I won’t return until 1 o’clock. Should he stop by, Mr. Incinerator will have missed me.
Lunchtime comes and I do as I planned. I bring my lunch back to the empty office and call up a friend to chat while I eat. She asks me how work is going and I seize the opportunity to tell her my amusing mechanic story. She, too, humors me and I revel in my narrative. We hang up the phone suddenly because she has to go, and I turn to take a sip of my soda. The office phone rings, so I pick it up and answer in the way I’ve been instructed:
“Bullard Garages, this is Josie speaking.”
“Did I catch you in the middle of eating your chicken?”
Then he chuckles.
Okay, people, he drives a gold van. He has salt and pepper hair and a mustache. Tell the police not to waste too much time looking for my body…what they really need to be searching for is an incinerator. It most likely is not in an adequate building.
The End. (but hopefully not!)