Category Archives: Short Stories

Nigerian Scam

Embassy row in Washington DC was dark that night, save a pair of lights that permeated through the ground floor windows of the Nigerian Embassy. A moment later, one of the of the lights dimmed to darkness.

Abashi, a man in his early thirties, propped his feet on the desk. His tie was loose and his collar unbuttoned.
“And that’s why we need your help”, he spoke wearily into the phone. The caller barked a response that made Abashi tip the receiver away from his ear. He scrawled a line through a name on his notepad, thumbed the hook, and punched in a new number.

Mazi, hat in hand, emerged in the doorway. He was wearing a unbelted beige overcoat, and a red tie spilled out from his neck, and down his white-cottoned belly. Grey strands threaded their way through his black curls.
“Mazi”, Abashi pronounced, widening his eyes and hanging up the phone. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going home”  Mazi replied, determinately.
Mbeke, armed with a ream of papers, arrived at Mazi’s size. Her hair looked jostled, and was pinned lopsided in the air with a ballpoint pen.
“Get back here Mazi” she exclaimed. She withdrew the pen from her hair, sending frizzy hair tumbling out to one side, and forced the papers towards his chest. Mazi aimed his palms in her direction and pushed himself away. “I’m not signing anything else. Mbeke. There’s no point.”
Mazi closed his eyes and released a long breath of air, before walking over to Abashi’s desk. Mbeke followed, her stiletto heels scraping against the tile floor. Abashi hung up the phone and set it down. He slid his legs off the desk, pressing soles to the floor. “Our nation is under attack, Mazi” Abashi stated. “What would the foreign ministry say to you deserting when you’re needed the most?”
“I don’t know what they’d say!” Mazi replied shrugging his shoulders. “We haven’t had contact with Abuja in, uh.” He turned to Mbeke, who examined her watch. “Thirty-five hours and 53 minutes” she replied, blinking slowly. “Thirty-five hours and 53 minutes!” he proclaimed, and donned his hat. “I’ve been on the phone with the foreign ministry of every country in the western hemisphere, and every single one of them has spit in my ear.”
Abashi frowned. “I know. And the same thing has been happening to me.” He ran rings on his temples with his thumb and index finger, and tried to think of something reinforcing to say.
Mazi pursed his lips and pointed east. “Look. We know the Delta Rebels took control of Abuja, and we know that we can’t pay their ransom demands unless the Minister of Finance authorizes it.”
“And we know that the Finance Minister is dead.” added Mbeke. “We don’t know who’s in charge.”
“So there’s nothing we can do from here.” Mazi said, donning his hat. “That’s why I’m going home. Mbeke, if you’re staying, please give Abashi anything he needs.”

Mbeke eyed Abashi indignantly, and rolled her eyes. Mazi took a final survey of the office, eying the empty, ransacked desks of former employees, who had departed under the assumption of unmet wages. Overturned files spilled papers over every surface, floor and desk. Mazi’s eyes met with Mbeke and Abashi, who stared back angrily. He then buckled his coat and departed.

Abashi stood in silence, grinding his teeth. He walked over to the water cooler, which dispensed its last few drops into his coffee mug. He approached the drinking fountain in the hall and held the mug under a stream so weak that the water dribbled backwards onto the metal spout. He then returned to his desk, plopped back down and dialed the next number on his list.

The call went straight to a voicemail. “Hello, Mr. Ambassador, this is Abashi Abacha, Acting Director of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC. We have been informed by the Foreign Ministry that our President has been assassinated, and his family, along with his cabinet department and the Vice President are now being held hostage. We require a third party in order to help resolve this matter. Please return this call as soon as possible, the number is 202-545-4500, extension 434.”

“It’s late” said Mbeke, with a sigh. “Everyone probably went home already”

Abashi frowned at his new assistant. “Is that really the point? Call off our search simply because it’s practical?”

Mbeke nodded. “We should call off the search. With an empty office and no multilateral support, it’s crazy for you to think you can do anything right now. We should go home and continue in the morning.”

Abashi looked at her with sympathetic eyes. “If you believed that, you would have left with Mazi.” He approached her and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You and I are still here because we both know that there is nowhere left to go”

A phone erupted in a clattering of rings. Abashi slid across a desk, spraying papers through the air, and lifted the receiver. “Nigerian Embassy, this is Abashi Abacha”.

“Hello, this is George Riker of the Australian Foreign Ministry. I’m here on a conference call with the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff. What is your situation?”

“Hello sirs”, Abashi said, grabbing a notebook and pencil. “At 8:35 am on Thursday, rebel forces took control of the capital. Our President has been assassinated, and the rebels have placed the remainder of our government in detention and are demanding a 120 million ransom.”

“What about the troops on the ground?”

“No contact since the rebel demands were issued” replied Abashi.

“And what is the word on your ability to pay?” asked Riker.

“Unfortunately, before being killed, our President called a state of emergency, which resulted in a freeze on all federal bank accounts.” Abashi said.

“So we have no access to money to pay off the ransom.” Added Mbeke.

“This is why we are using this opportunity to solicit your co-operation and assistance.” Abashi said. “We need urgent help to get the ransom money to Abuja as soon as possible.”

A click could be heard on the other end of the line. “This is Duncan Quick, Chief of Staff. What approach are you looking for us to take in regards to this matter?”

“Once you wire us the money, we will be able to pay the ransom, and then unfreeze our bank accounts. After that, we can pay you back.”

A pause was heard on the Australian end. After a moment, the Chief of Staff came back on the line. “So to summarize, you’re asking for 120 million dollars in cash to be wired to Nigeria?” Mr. Quick asked.

“Yes sir.” Abashi said excitedly. “Although the captors actually requested the payment to be made in Euros. Did I mention the 100 percent Nigerian guarantee?”

A low rumble of voices could be heard through the receiver, followed by shouting, and a click. Abashi’s mouth dropped. “Hello? Hello?!” But his shout was met with the line’s disconnection. Abashi held the phone in the air, staring at the receiver.

“What did they say?” asked Mbeke.

“They hung up.”

Mbeke exhaled loudly, and put the back of her hand to her head. “Well. Let’s hope they call back.”

Mike’s Bikes

Javier stood atop the landing of the storefront window, searching the sidewalkers for his boss. After a moment, his eyes caught the approach of his bowling ball of a boss, Mike, whirling amongst the elbows and briefcases of passerbys. He had a milk crate in his hands and was using pressed teeth to transit a coffee cup. As he began his approach towards the shop’s entrance, Javier hopped down and hid behind a stack of boxes.  When the door swung open, a tiny bell dinged cheerfully from its spot on the door.

“Welcome to Mike’s Bikes” Javier announced, popping out from behind the boxes. “How can I help you?”
Mike set the crate on a faded green countertop, and took the cup from his mouth. “What’s that on the door?”
“A bell.” replied Javier
“Well”, Mike said, resting his arm on the counter. “As the owner of this establishment, can you please explain why it’s drilled into my door?”
Javier frowned, and took a sip from a mug. “Ambiance. Customers like the sound, and it makes them buy more things.”
“That’s stupid”, laughed Mike. As he shook his head, he waved his arms back and forth in a crossing motion. “People don’t just decide to buy more things because of a bell. My urologist, Doug Pavlov, once wrote an entire book on that subject; “The Pointlessness of Mind Control”.
“Some part of what you said doesn’t make sense”, said Javier. “Besides, I’m done talking about your urologist. I to know why you went ahead and bought all this inventory.”
Mike held up an index finger and widened his eyes. “It’s a surprise”
“It’s clearly not a surprise.” said Javier, looking around at the boxes. “You bought-“
A blonde man, sporting a bouffant resembling a banana creme pie, entered the store and turned to the bell. “Say, that’s pretty inviting…Hey friend, would you do me the trouble of selling me two bikes instead of just one?”
Javier raised his eyebrows towards Mike. “It’s been like this all morning.” Javier turned towards the bouffant. “I can help you right here, sir!”.
Mike lifted the crate from its spot on the counter, re-tasked his jaw muscles with the weight of the coffee cup, and walked towards the back of the store.

The back of the store was devoted to a workshop, a fire escape obstructed by boxes of inventory, and a meager, cluttered office. When he opened the door to the office, Mike found his daughter, spinning slowly in his swivel chair. She was coated from ankles to wrists in black lycra and had a growl etched into her face.
“Good morning Shelly” Mike said, his eyes fixed on the contents of the milk crate. He removed a white paper bag dotted with translucent grease stains, and held it in the air. “Here. I brought you one of those egg, bacon, and cheese donuts from that place next to the Disco Lounge.”
“First off” she said, raising her volume. “The Debaser Music Bar hasn’t been called the Disco Lounge at any point in my lifetime. Second, there’s no part of that bag that I’d put anywhere near my mouth.”
Mike shrugged, and set the crate onto a layer of papers and arched backward, rubbing each notch in his back. Shelly stared at the droopy belly that spilled from his shirt.
“Oh right.” Mike said. “I forgot that you’d prefer to have the chest of a thirteen year old boy.”
“I think those donuts are doing enough for both of us” she replied.
Mike tossed his arms up, and let gravity swing them around. “Why is it wrong for me to value my daughter on her looks and ability to attract a husband?”
“For too many reasons to count” She said, spiking the volume in her voice.
“Then why have you been sleeping the last three nights in your old bedroom instead of your apartment?” Mike replied, jutting a finger into the air.
She pushed herself away from the desk, sending the wheels of the chair out of their scattered headings and into lockstep towards the radiator, which rattled when the two came into contact. “We’re not having this conversation.”
“Ok, ok.” said Mike, retreating. “Then…is there a reason why you decided to play in my chair this morning?”
“I’m here” she said rising. “Because a huge shipment of bikes arrived this morning, and they’re blocking the halls, the workshop and the fire exit.”
She squeezed the bag of donuts, sending grease stains outward across the white paper . “And while you may not care about long term survival…I do.”
She released her grip and the wet paper split apart, raining breakfast upon Mike’s desk.
“Coincidentally”. Mike added, frowning. “I came up with a solution that will solve everything except this mess you’ve just made. I want you and Bernardinho to assemble every one of those bikes, because they’re getting sold today.”
Shelly’s arms dropped to her sides. “Every bike?”
“That’s the plan”
Shelly coughed uneasily. “I don’t know who you expected to do it, but I’m not spending all day in that workshop assembling bikes”
“Why not?” asked Mike, raising his hands. “It’s good to build something with your bare hands.” His hands were balled up and he shook them in the air.
“Nobody builds anything anymore”, replied Shelly, and tugged at her lycra. “This shirt was polymerized by a machine in Malaysia.”
“Wait. I thought you bought everything local?”, asked Mike, confusedly. “Like those seven dollar carrots you’ve got molding in my pizza crisper”.
“What do you want from me?” whined Shelly. “I’m not gonna just build bikes just because you’re up to some stupid business scheme.”
“No initiative” Mike said, wagging a finger. “These bikes were a good deal. Sure, I had to make the entire purchase in Russian Rubles, but it was still a good deal.” He rose, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Shelly’s nose twitched, and she narrowed her eyes.
“And one thing I’ve learned in life”, he added. “Is that money in whatever currency, is a pretty nice thing to have…It lets me run my own business, and it lets me hire my lovely daughter to work beside me.”
Shelly rolled her eyes and planted her feet in a defensive stance. “Shouldn’t your plan have included some warning to the people who have to do the work?”
He removed a rolled up poster from the crate and tapped it on her head. “I’m telling them now. And I’ll be sure to bring up your concerns at the next shareholder meeting”
She turned to exit, and Mike frowned as he caught a glimpse of her walking away. “You know, lots of guys are looking for something to squeeze.” he shouted, and began to unpack his crate.

By the time Mike returned to the front of the store bearing an easel and magic marker, Javier had the bouffant toting a shopping bag full of accessories.
“And since you got the clip-on shoes, you’ll definitely need the matching pedals” Javier said, whose attention began to drift towards the poster being hung in the window. “Excuse me for one second”, he said to the bouffant, and turned to grimace at Mike standing atop a wobbly stepladder.
“What’s going on?” Javier asked.
“We’re having a sale.”
“A bike sale? Today?”
“That’s right, Mike said. We’ve got a ton of inventory and all day to get rid of it.”
Javier put his hands to his hips. “I know we have a ton of inventory. I also remember last week when I told you it was a bad idea to order two pallets of discount Russian bikes. You didn’t listen.”
“What’s done is done, Javier. It’s now time to think about the bike sale, and how many you’re going to sell.”
Javier sighed, and leaned an elbow on a stack of boxes. “You expect to me to get behind a plan to unload all of our inventory in one day?”
Mike finished taping up the poster and climbed down to observe his work. “That’s right. Do you know how much Macy’s makes every year on their day after Thanksgiving sale? 80 billion dollars.”
“Today is not the day after Thanksgiving.” Javier said. And unless “Macy’s” is code for “the drug trade”, I’m pretty sure your math isn’t-“
“Did I mention the prize?” asked Mike, interrupting.
“No. You didn’t.”
“Well there’s a prize. The salesperson with the highest dollar total sold will win the Excelsior Lightspeed!” Mike waved his hand in front of a gold bicycle that rotated slowly in the window. “Fastest bike on the road”, Mike added. “With 24 karat plating and studded with 200 man-made diamonds!”
Javier shook his head. “Yeah, I know all about the gold bike with the tacky C-Z rhinestones. And I also know that you’ve had it for 3 years because it costs $20,000”
“So the price is high.” Mike shrugged. “Limits it to serious buyers.”
“The price is beyond high! The only serious buyer has been Mr. Hallworthy, and he offers to bargain for it every time he comes into the shop”.
A spectacled man drifting about the shoe section looked up. “I’ll take it off your hands today, but I won’t pay more than $19,999”
“Get lost Hallworthy!” Shouted Mike, and turned back to Javier. “I’d rather melt it down than sell it to that lowballing cheapskate”
“Fine”, said Javier. “I have a chance to win a bike that’ll get stolen the minute I ride it out of the shop.”
“If…you emerge victorious!”
Javier rolled his eyes. “Marissa is the only other salesperson, plus you make it sound like I have to slaughter her in order to win”
Mike raised his arms into the air. “But that’s what a sale is all about…defeating and humiliating your coworkers.”
“Bike sale?” chimed Marissa, who seemed to materialize by Mike’s side. “You’re announcing it now?”
Marissa sidled up to Mike and wrapped a muscular arm around his shoulder. She was doubtlessly taking in full breaths of cheap aftershave; a stench that usually made Javier nauseous enough to keep his distance. But Marissa’s abs looked strong and protruded like fleshy speed bumps.
“Yeah, we’re having a bike sale.” repeated Mike.
Marissa took a step back. “But you said you’d give me a 2 hour head start!”
“You knew?” Javier asked, raising his voice.
Mike sighed. “I did promise that to you, Marissa. But I decided that giving you a head start would be an unfair advantage and a mistreatment of my other employees.”
Javier smiled, and nodded vociferously.
Marissa’s face crinkled. “Then why…did I just spend my weekend pulling weeds and mowing your lawn?”
Javier and Marissa stepped closer to Mike, cornering him against the stepladder.
“You’re right, Marissa.” Mike admitted.  “Exploiting you was wrong…Javier, forget everything I just said.”
Mike stepped towards a crack of space between Javier and Marissa, only to find himself pinned between their unyielding stances. “But come to my office in two hours. I have a big announcement!” Mike pushed harder towards Marissa, who begrudgingly stepped aside, sending him tumbling in the direction of his office.

“I’m sitting this one out” said Javier, moving to a stool behind the cash register.
Marissa shot a suspicious look at her co-worker. “You are? Why?”
Javier picked up a folded cycling magazine and began to scan its contents. “Because this is foolish. I told Mike not to buy all that inventory and he did it anyway.”
“But you could win the Excelsior!” she added, pumping her fist.
“I told him not to buy that either.” He tossed the magazine onto the counter, placed his hands behind his head, and leaned back. “So if he’s not listening to me, then I don’t see the need to hang onto every one of his orders.”
Marissa smirked and stepped closer. Her blonde hair was yanked into a ponytail, and it stretched her forehead into billboard of spray-tanned pores. “You look fake even when you’re pretending to relax,” she said, shaking her head. “The minute I turn around, is the minute you start trying to win that bike.”
“Well I’m not.” Javier replied, and raised an eyebrow. “But I guess you’d have to drop out of the sale and keep an eye on me in order to be certain.”
The bouffant approached the register, a brimming shopping bag in hand. “I’m all set. Can you ring me up?”
Before Javier could get all four legs of his stool back to the ground, Marissa had bumped him aside, tipping him backwards to the floor.
“I can help you out with that” she said, snatching the bouffant’s credit card. Amidst her escortion of the man to the door, she plucked a business card off the counter.
“In case you need anything” She said, scribbling Javier’s name from the card. “You just let me know.”
She handed him the card and winked. The man glanced at the card and frowned. “Thanks, but I prefer my ladies to weigh at least 600 pounds.”
Marissa face soured, but quickly shook her frown loose, and turned to Javier with a wide grin. “It feels good to make a sale”
“Even when you scoop it out from underneath me?” Javier asked, pressing a palm to the back of his head.
“I thought you don’t care?” stated Marissa. “Plus it’s only murder if you get caught”.
“What?” asked Javier.
She glanced around the store. “We need something that we can ring when we make a sale.” She thought about it and snapped her fingers. “We should get a bell!”
“We have a bell.” Javier said, checking his palm for blood.
She smirked at the bell dangling on the door. “That’s a fake bell.”
“How can a bell be fake!?”
“No more bells!” Shouted Mike from the back.
Marissa pouted her lower lip, spun around, and zipped towards a wandering customer.

Shelly stood nervously in the bathroom of the store, staring at the screen on her cell phone. Eventually, she pushed the “send” button and waited anxiously as the rings mounted in number. When a voicemail message chimed in, her eyes dimmed. “I know you’re there asshole! Answer the phone!” she screamed, stretching the words out. She then hit the red button, paused, and then redialed. By the time the voicemail repeated, her tone was far more diplomatic. “Look, forget what I said. Just call me back”. She rubbed her eyes and opened the door to meet the raised eyebrow on Javier’s forehead.
“Were you listening to me in there?” She accused.
“No.” Javier said, motioning his mug towards the sink. “But…It would be hard not to have heard a little.” He added.
“I was just…talking on the phone”
“Well, don’t mind me.” he said, stepping past her.
“I hate calling from home” said Shelly, blood draining from her face. “The walls are so thin, and I keep thinking that my dad is listening in on my phone calls.”
“You’re dad? Listening?” Javier said, filling his mug in the sink. “Plus why call from here? He’s in the next room.”
“At least when I call here, he’s usually fast asleep before mid-morning.” She replied.
Javier took a sip from his mug, and swallowed loudly. “I know what you mean. Whenever I got a call from a guy growing up, I always took it into the washroom so Nana wouldn’t know.”
“Taking it in the washroom.” repeated Shelly. “Is that code for gay sex or something?”
Javier chuckled and turned off the faucet. “May as well be. Nana was old school. When she caught my sister getting “the executive treatment” from the class president on Wednesdays after school, she damn near threw her out of the house.”
“What did you do about it?” asked Shelly.
“Nothing”, replied Javier. “I was too glad that Nana never found out about what he and I were giving each other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Shelly laughed, not in a restrained fashion, but one of those dopey chuckles that occur when one forgets how sound. They then walked in stride towards the workshop.
“So” said Javier. “What’s going on that’s keeping you away from your man?”
Shelly opened her mouth, but only a loud breath escaped. “Things are…ok.”
Javier put his hands on his bony hips. “How long have we both worked here? I can tell from outer space when you’re not getting laid”.
“Hey!” exclaimed Shelly. “Things are….not ok.” Her eyes fluttered like a moth and she coughed softly. “But why are we talking about me? What about you?”
“What about me?” asked Javier. “I can find a man on my timetable…and I’ve got plenty of other things that need to be dealt with, like this bike sale.”
Shelly laughed. “I refuse to accept that you would willingly choose to sell bikes over dating….what about going out with Bernardinho”, she said, pointing towards the lean man with flared black hair, hunched over the instructions to a gear set.
Javier grinned. “And what makes you think that he’s my type?”
Her eyes widened, as if the thought seemed obvious. “Well, he’s gay, has the same fauxhawk haircut as you, loves bikes, and wears the same…ball-hugging shorts. Plus you’re both Central American or something.”
“So” said Javier accusingly.  “We’re all interchangeable to you?”
“Also, I’m Brazilian” added Bernardinho with a raise of his wrench.
“No” She responded, and let out a spurt of air. “I just figured that you might want to…get to know each other or something.”
Javier nodded. “And that’s how gay guys operate? Bernardinho and I work together in a space that’s getting smaller by the day, and if you don’t nudge us, then we’ll never cross paths?”
“No” she added, getting louder. “It’s just hard sometimes…when someone isn’t paying attention.”
Javier set his clipboard atop a stack of boxes and took a step closer to her. “Look. If it happens, then it happens.”
She was looking down, but after a pause, she nodded.
Bernadrinho raised his head atop the pile of spare parts. “Plus we’ve fucked already”
“Yeah” confirmed Javier. “A bunch of times”.
“What? Really?” replied Shelly with a goofy smile.

“Ding ding!” shouted Marissa, sticking her head into the workshop. “Made another sale!”
“Oh, is that still going on?” replied Javier lazily.
“Oh yeah.” said Marissa. “I just sold a dozen to the bakery. Well, it was actually 14, but it sounds witty if I-“
“None of it sounds witty”, interrupted Shelly
“Marty’s Bakery?” asked Javier, biting his lip.
“Yeah.” said Marissa with a chime of confidence. “Marty said he was coming by for you, saying something about him needing a fleet for deliveries and owing you big.”
“I should say so” nodded Javier. “After what I gave him the other-, um, never mind.”
Marissa paused, but her enthusiasm kept going. “Well…I told him that I could process the sale. You know, since you don’t care about bike sales and all”.
“Thanks” said Javier through grinding teeth.  “Your commitment is infectious.”
Marissa shrugged. “Keep at it. As soon as you leave this room you’re gonna start grinding up on the next customer.”
“No, you’ve got the grinding part down.” said Javier, who picked up his clipboard and departed.
Marissa watched him leave and turned to Shelly. “So I need those bikes out front, pronto.” she said, snapping her fingers.
“They’re over there.” said Shelly, pointing to the stack of boxes. “And the dolly was taken into the washroom”
Marissa’s enthusiasm drained. “Those are still in boxes. Where are the assembled ones?”
“There are no assembled ones.” answered Shelly, picking up a wrench and spinning it around. “This sale was turd, dropped into our laps.”
“So…you haven’t done your job.” Marissa stated.
“If my job is making your ass look good, then no, I haven’t done my job Melissa.” She picked up a blueprint for a bike, and pretended to examine it.
Marissa’s began to breathe harder. “My name is Marissa…NOT Melissa. It took a marathon of yelling to get it changed!” She took a breath, and added coldly, “I took the time to memorize your name, “Spoiled Daddy’s Girl”, so you ought to learn mine.”
Shelly sighed, and reached for the first piece of reading material she could find. “The bikes will be ready at whatever time will keep you from ever coming back here again.”
“What about now?” asked Marissa. “Can you fit your job into the amount of time you spend here? Maybe do something of value in a work day?”
Shelly and Marissa exchanged glares, and Marissa did an about-face and exited the workshop.
“Who the fuck changes their name to Marissa?” asked Bernardinho.

Javier knocked on the open door to Mike’s office. “Just a minute” answered Mike. His feet were on his desk, and he was using his hand to scrape chunks of donut and bacon onto a manila folder.
“I think this sale is getting out of hand”. said Javier, his eyes still on Mike’s efforts to corral the donut.
“What are you talking about?” asked Mike. He bent the folder into a U shape and began pouring bits of pig, congealed cheese and fried dough into his mouth. “Marissa has sold thirty-five bikes, and it’s not even lunchtime.”
“She’s compromising the work environment.” replied Javier. “I can’t fulfill my assistant manager duties while she’s swarming around the store.”
Mike set his folder down, leaking stray grease onto a pile of sales orders. “It’s good to take the initiative once in a while. The other day, you know what I saw on the bus? A toenail clipping. Some slob was clipping in full view and nobody stood up to him.” Mike sighed and used his arm to wipe bacon grease from his nose.
Javier’s face shrunk in confusion. “Wait. You take the bus? You have a store full of bikes.”
“You don’t get high on your own supply!” said Mike, slapping his hand on his desk. “Warren Buffett taught me that.”
“Well, what that car you bought because you were told Ronald Reagan once ate lunch in it?” Javier asked.
Mike shuddered. “Gas is too expensive. I’d rather save the 14 cents on each mile and take the 43B, transfer at the airport, and again at the other airport.”
Javier shook his head, “Geez. How much is the toenail worth?”
“Enough” said Mike, waving his hand. “Go sell something”.
“I’m not feeling appreciated” said Javier, exiting. “Put that in your file”.
Mike shook his head and tossed the greasy folder onto a pile of trash that rose from the can.

Javier, shoulders lowered, walked out to the storefront to witness Marissa working over a customer. She had him cornered, and pulled off his headphones in order to shout motivational phrases into his ear.
“Buy this bike!” she shouted.
“I don’t want to!” he cried.
As the man tried to step past her, she clamped a hand to his shoulder and squeezed. “You’ve gotta push it to the max! Buy a bike! Now!”
“No! Please stop!” he shouted.
“Do it” she said, “or else I’ll-“
The bell dinged as the door to the store opened. The man blinked, and then smiled.
“Oh. The Kaliningrad. I like these bikes. I’ll take one now, as long as you accept cash.
“That’s good.” Marissa replied, nodding. “Real good”. She then hauled him by the arm towards the cash register.

Javier sighed, and dejectedly approached a woman leading a herd of children.
“Welcome to Mike’s Bikes” he said, his enthusiasm trailing off. “How can I help you?”
“Oh,” the woman said at the sight of Javier. “I am looking for bikes for my kids” she said in a loud, deliberate tone, and pointed to five children, none of whom appeared to be older than 10 years. They were playing a game that seemed to center on taking turns hitting one another, followed by a long and detailed tantrum by each child, outlining in detail the other siblings’ misdoings.
“Well you’re in luck” said Javier, monotonously. “There’s a sale today. I can get your kids outfitted with bikes, locks and helmets for less than $100 each.”
The woman smiled, and continued to speak slowly, emphasizing each word. “That is good, but I also want helmets and locks por favor.”
Javier paused, and examined the woman’s face. She had an expectant look, as if preparing to accept a compliment. He considered expressing surprise that she was able to notice his accent, and feign admiration at her insistence on sprinkling broken shards of Spanish into their conversation. He thought about how she would touch a hand to her chest and laugh, followed by a casual reply about how she managed to pick it all up simply by listening in on her housekeeper’s personal phone calls.
But he glanced down at her handbag, which was stuffed with sticky lollipops, and smeared with melted crayons, and decided that it might be possible that more than one person could be having a rough day. “Certainly, ma’am.” he said.  “Step this way please.”
Within a few minutes, Javier had properly fitting helmets attached to the heads of each child. The helmet-clad children almost immediately began to use any objects they could find; bike locks, shoes, custom handlebars; to test their helmets’ structural integrity. Even as Javier escorted the woman to the register, he cringed at her indifference to the whacking sound that bounced against the store walls.
“Your English is very good” said the woman loudly.
“Thank you”, said Javier, scribbling quickly onto a sales form. “So is yours”
The woman nodded with an air of certainty. “Well yes, but I’m from here.”
“So am I” replied Javier, punching the prices into the register. “Right down the block”
The woman didn’t wait for him to continue. “Well, I don’t know about all your brothers and sisters, but you don’t seem all that bad. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
Javier stopped his data entry and took a deep breath. “You know, maybe you would feel more comfortable if you dealt with my associate. Marissa. She speaks bueno English”
“What?” asked the woman. “The sale is over. What do you even call it at this point?”
“Well” said Javier, voiding the purchase on the register. “In one conversation, you’ve managed to insult me, my ethnicity and my family, so I figure to call it void.”
“I…don’t understand”
“You don’t understand.” Javier stated. At that moment one of her lollipopped boys dislodged a kickstand, tipping all five bikes over like dominoes. “And by the way,” Javier added. “It’s a vagina, not a burning building. They don’t all need to exit at once.”
The woman’s mouth dropped open. Javier crumbled her sales order into a ball and flipped it over his head. The ball twirled, and was snatched out of the air by Marissa. “I can help you madam.” said Marissa, unraveling the ball and taking a hand to the customer. “Must be embarrassing” she whispered to Javier, who simply frowned, and removed a business card from the mini-turnstile on the desk.
Javier shook his head towards Marissa. “You brought this on yourself. Remember that.”
Marissa laughed, and proceeded to the cash register with hers and Javier’s customer at the same time.

Javier flipped open his phone and began punching digits. “Hello, this is Javier Herrera over at Mike’s Bikes. I’m calling because we’re having a bike sale, and everything is available at a discount.” Marissa peered above the cash register, watching Javier nod vigorously. “And I can drop it off this evening…Uh-huh…Yes…no…Definitely no…Thank you.” Javier closed his phone and met Marissa straight in the eyes.
“Well done” Marissa said, deliberately clapping her hands. “You managed to sell a single bike on the day of a bike sale.”
“Keep it up.” replied Javier, rolling his eyes. He picked up a clipboard and took it down the hall and into the workshop. Inside, Shelly had a wrench twirling in her hand and her eyes in a magazine.
“What do we have in stock that’s just taking up space?” Javier asked
Shelly frowned. “You mean besides my dad and these Soviet bikes?”
Javier scanned the remaining pile of unassembled bikes. Each frame was stamped with cyrillic lettering and looked to weigh at least eighty pounds. “I refuse to participate in…that” he said, waving his palm in circular motions towards the pile. “What else do we have?”
“There’s a crate of knee and elbow pads that I’m using as a chair” added Bernardinho.
Javier nodded. “I remember. Mike bought them and then decided that padding is for “queers and menstruating women”
“Filho da puta” muttered Bernardinho.
“Well, I think I found a buyer for them.” grinned Javier. “I’ll also take anything else that’s taking up space back here.”
Shelly and Bernardinho exchanged confused looks, and began to unearth stacks of unsold goods; seizure-inducing headlights, bike shorts for the obese, helmets intended for those sufffering from gigantism, and energy gels with flavors such as “mocha mayo” and “salmonberry”.
“This is like a graveyard of bad ideas” stated Shelly, indignantly.
Javier nodded “I told your Dad not to purchase any of this crap. But does he listen?”
“Are you kidding me? replied Shelly. “He listens to you all the time. Remember when he gave away a free blood test with every bike purchase?
“How could I forget?” said Javier. “That was way more hepatitis than a bike store should be handling”.
“Yeah, I argued against it,” Shelly replied, her eyes fixed on the wrench that she twirled in circles atop the workbench. “But when you said it, he listened”
“I spent 2 hours nagging him.” Javier said. “And it wasn’t until the ambulance arrived that he listened to my advice.”
“I think it’ll take more than that to get him to listen to me.” Shelly said, resting her chin in her hands.
“Then try harder.” Javier replied.
She flicked a bolt across the counter with her finger. Yeah…I guess”

Ding. Ding. Ding. By mid-afternoon, the store was consistently filled with customers marching a path through the store. Almost every shopper was carrying something, and many were removing items from shelves without much consideration for their size or purpose. One man hoisted three boxes of children’s shoes, along with the bracket shelving, straight off the wall.
“Watch it” shouted Javier, dashing in to reclaim the shelf from the man.
“It’s alright” said Marissa, who by this point had ceased personalizing her sales pitches, instead opting for an assembly-line method: A punch on a customer’s shoulder, and a checkmark on a clipboard. Many customers merely dropped their cash or credit cards onto a pile next to the register.
“Once Mike sees how many bikes I’ve sold, we’ll be up to our heads in bracket shelving.”
“So you want to earn more bracket shelving than me?” asked Javier. “That’s why you’ve been out for blood today?”
Marissa closed in on Javier, pinning him against the counter. “When I want something, I take it. And once Mike sees these sales totals, he’s going to demote you, and make me assistant manager.” She stabbed a finger into his chest. “And once I’m running this store, you’d better start showing me some respect, unless you want your primary job function to be taking the mop into the washroom.”
“Excuse me”, said a disoriented man. He spoke with an accent, and had a commissary’s worth of energy bars under his arms. “I want to buy more things, but my arms can’t hold any more.”
“Wait over there!” shouted Marissa, pointing him away from the traffic of shoppers. The man rotated and marched towards a corner of the store, banging into things along the way. Marissa spun back towards Javier.
“You’re finished in this town” she grinned.
“This isn’t a town.” Javier stated, and began to walk away. “And I’m not finished!”

Mike was asleep in his chair when Shelly poked her head in. Seeing him in his present state, Shelly dropped a wrench onto the hard floor. Mike convulsed at the sound, and woke up abruptly.
“What was that all about?” he asked
“Shareholder’s meeting” Shelly said.
“Are you here to complain about the bikes?” He asked.
“No” said Shelly, scanning the office. “They’re assembled and ready”
“All of them?” Mike asked in surprise.
“Yeah. I was thinking about it, and I didn’t get a chance to thank you for letting me move back in and not asking why or anything.”
“Oh…well, you’re welcome” Mike replied in surprise. “Are you gonna tell me?”
“Nope” she stated, nonchalantly.

The clock’s hands rotated in several circles, and Marissa held the door open for the final departing customer. “Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the bike”. With the door closed, Marissa spun around with a wide grin. “Landslide victory” she said towards Javier, who stood silently, arms crossed. Mike waddled into the room and took in the now empty storefront. “Good job people.” He exclaimed, hands on hips. “I’d give you a raise, but what you learned today is worth more than a bigger paycheck.”

“I disagree.” said Javier, shaking his head. “Shall we tally the receipts?”
Mike approached the stack of sales orders and began entering numbers into a calculator. Admist his calculations, Javier and Marissa took turns glaring at one another.
According to receipts” said Mike,  “Marissa has sold just under $10,000 worth of merchandise.” “Boom!” shouted Marissa, pumping her fist.
“What about me?” asked Javier.
Mike lifted a single sales order from underneath Marissa’s pile. He examined it closely, and smiled. “According to this sales order, Javier has sold $19,999 worth of stock.”
“What!?” shouted Marissa, snatching the sales order from Mike’s palm. “Who the hell ordered $400 worth of salmonberry energy gel? Or 100 pairs of Chubby Charlies?”
“It’s not important” said Javier. “The money is in the register and I’m using the Lightspeed tonight to deliver the useful parts of the order over to the bike co-op. And the other half is going to a dumpster by Mr. Hallworthy’s house.”
Marissa, jaw agape, looked helplessly towards Mike. “And you’re going to allow this? He’s got no reciepts, he didn’t sell a single one of those shitty bikes…he’s cheating!”
“It’s not murder if you can hide the body” replied Javier
“He’s right Marissa”, said Mike. That’s why Javier is the Assistant Corpse-Smuggler, er Manager, and it’s why you have a flat, unattractive ass. And I’m glad that the storeroom is clear and that I have much more money than I did yesterday”.
“Well, maybe you should enjoy it while your legs still work”, added Javier.
Mike reached into his pocket and tossed a golden key to Javier.
“What’s this?”
“The key to the bike.” Mike said.
Javier paused. “Bikes don’t have keys.”
“I know” admitted Mike. “I spray-painted a copy of the store key as a token of appreciation.” He stuck out a raised thumb and nodded. “You did a good job, and I don’t say that enough”.
Javier turned it over in his hand. It was shimmery, and left a trail of gold paint across his palm. “Thanks. It’ll go great with my other copy of the store key.”
Javier lifted the Lightspeed from the window and set it on the floor. The light went off in the back of the store, and Shelly and Bernardinho emerged slinging identical messenger bags. “It is a pretty sexy ride” said Shelly.
“Yeah”. Javier ran a hand along the frame and pinched its slim tires. “Perfect air pressure”, stated Javier, and locked eyes with Marissa. “It appears that someone planned on riding it out of the store.”
Marissa crossed her arms and tapped her arm with her finger. “It appears there was more than one.”
“Well, it’s been a long day.” said Mike. “We should all get going before I miss the airport transfer.”
The employees of the store all filed towards the front door. Bernardinho took the knob and gave it a pull, sending the bell into a jingly celebration. Outside the store, however, stood a crowd of people.
“There they are!” shouted the bouffant man, who joined his fellow crowdgatherers in the formation of a tight circle around the shop’s entrance.
“What’s going on out here?” shouted Javier.
The bouffant stepped forward. His head was wrapped in a blood-stained bandage. “My handlebars fell off the minute I made it around the block.”
“I’m so sorry” Javier said apologetically. “It must have been a fluke occura-“
“And then the same thing happened to the other bike”, The bouffant interrupted, as he wheeled up a second bike sporting an identical malady.
“Mine too” shouted a woman with a sling around her shoulder.
“Same here” said a man as he pointed to what was left of a crushed, sans-handlebar bike.
Shelly coughed uneasily. “There must be some mistake. We followed the directions. We even hired a Russian exchange student to do the translations.”
“Probably a good thing we paid him in bikes” whispered Bernardinho.
“What a surprise” added Marissa. “Spoiled Daddy’s Girl spoils the sale.”
“I didn’t spoil anything!” argued Shelly.
Marissa backed slowly towards the crowd. “Of course you didn’t. Nothing is ever your fault”
“No heart” added Mike, sadly.
Shelly looked over in shock towards Mike, who tried to ignore her stare.
“That’s right” said Marissa. “No heart”.
Marissa patted her chest. As she did, a confused look began to spread across her face. Patting her chest again, she withdrew
a padded envelope from under her shirt.
“What’s that?” asked Javier, pointing towards the envelope.
“Oh” replied Marissa, sheepishly. “I assumed I would be appointed Assistant Manager, so I signed for this package. I guess I forgot about it until now.”
Marissa handed it to Javier, who tore it open. Out spilled one hundred lug nuts, along with a note. Mike unfolded the note, and began to read.

Use these lug nuts to hold the handlebars onto the bike. Hope they arrive in time. By reading this letter you waive any legal obligation on our part.

Sincerely,

Kaliningrad Bikes

“A store selling defective products,” muttered Marissa, strapping a helmet to her head. “That is truely aw-“
But Marissa’s last words couldn’t be made out, as she zipped away on her bike.
“After her!” shouted a voice from the back, as a chunk of able-bodied riders turned in pursuit. But the chase fizzled out quickly once every handlebar detached from its frame, sending rider after rider headfirst into the pavement. Most of the chasers gave up there, although some of the more committed riders continued on in visible discomfort.

“Let’s get back inside” whispered Mike.
“Way ahead of you” replied Javier, who had unlocked the store, but was presently struggling with his key.
“What’s taking so long?” asked Shelly, amidst panicky breaths.
“The key is stuck,” grimaced Javier. “I think that gold spray paint is jamming the lock!”
As the crowd lunged towards the staff, Javier gave up on pulling the key out, and led the dash into the shop.
Once inside, the staff piled against the door.
“We can’t hold them here” stated Shelly
Javier pointed towards the back of the store. “Into the office!”
As soon as they let go, the shop door flung open from the force of the crowd. The staff made a beeline towards Mike’s office, hopping, ducking under and crashing into anything in the way. As the bell on the shop entrance dinged repeatedly. Mike slammed the office door closed.
“We’re dead!” cried Mike. “All because of our actions.”
Javier and Bernardinho began to prop furniture against the office door.
“I can’t believe you turned on me out there!” Shelly yelled.
“I capitalized on the situation!” Mike replied. “My employee gets caught doing something bad. I disavow all knowledge. It’s capital-ism!”
“Wait!” shouted Javier. “I think they left”
The staff listened in, but no sounds could be heard. Javier took a deep breath and turned the knob. Outside the office, stood a store full of people, silently holding bikes, locks, and anything else that could be lifted off the shelves.
“What do you want?” shouted Mike.
After a pause, a man in the middle of the store raised his hand.
“I’d like to buy that bike” he said, pointing towards an unsold road bike.
“Me too” spouted another person.
“I want these bike shoes” shouted a woman with shoes on her hands.
“I’ll take all your salmonberry!” shouted another.
Eventually the store was filled with chirping customers, each demanding armloads of unsold goods. Mike and Javier exchanged confused looks. Shelly was still holding her wrench in a defensive stance.
After a moment, Mike turned to Javier, and nodded. “Ring em up!”



Future Man

robo-guy

Charles woke up from a thousand year sleep to a finger poking him in the eye. His eyes opened wider to reveal a bright white room with two doctors standing over him. At first glance, the situation looked fairly routine. The doctors’ lab coats were white, with their stethoscopes adorned like necklaces. A machine could be heard beeping behind him while shower-curtain partitions swayed softly to the sanitary, circulated air. But as his eyes focused for the first time in a thousand years, he could tell that something was different. For starters, the doctors looked the slightest bit abnormal. Their skin complexion seemed artificial and caked in makeup, while their eyes seemed distant, as if their minds were somewhere else. It didn’t ease Charles’ tension that the doctors looked almost identical in height, weight and facial structure. After a moment, they both grinned widely.

“Hello and good morning” said the first doctor.
Charles squinted and tried to sit up.
“Be careful. Your right arm is hooked up to that IV bag.” said the other Doctor.
The first doctor put a hand to his chest. “My name is Dr. Smith”. He pointed to the other doctor, who repeated the gesture.
“My name is Dr. Muhammed.”
“What am I doing here in the hospital? Did they find a cure for my disease?”
Dr. Smith nodded. “As you may remember, you were frozen until medical science could find a way to cure your disease: exploding chest syndrome.”
“Which we did! Just yesterday!” added Dr. Muhammed.
So aside from that psychologically crippling scar, you’ll be back to new in time for the trial.”
“Trial? Like a medical test trial?”
“Oh no, your criminal trial” said Dr. Smith
“Criminal? I’ve been awake for 2 minutes. What could I have done?”
Dr. Smith nodded distantly, with his wide grin unflinching. “We’ve unfrozen a number of people from your time, but so far every person has either been a crazed super-villain that’s hell-bent on world domination, or the carrier of any number of grimy and drippy diseases that your millennium has become known for.”
“Indeed”, said Dr. Muhammed. “We’ve already stopped Dr. Doom, Captain Apocalypse AND Tom Cruise in their quests to freeze themselves in an attempt to destroy the future, er I mean present.”
“Foolish 46 chromosomed humans.” said Dr. Smith. “We saw your moves coming from 1,000 years away” He holds up an old newspaper with the banner headline reading “Tom Cruise freezes self in order to seize power in year 3,000”
Dr. Muhammed nodded “So naturally because all the unfrozen subjects from your time have been maniac criminals, and since you are in fact from your time, you Charles, are clearly guilty.”
“But I’m not a supercriminal. And I only vaguely remember agreeing to be frozen indefinitely”
“According to our records, your family signed you up after realizing it was actually cheaper to drop you off at the local cryogenic lab than pay the property taxes on a grave.”
“Tough times” Dr. Muhammed said solemnly, his grin remaining in place.
Charles rubbed his forehead and remained silent for a moment. “So you woke me up just so you could tell me that everyone I know is dead, and that I’m under arrest for being alive?”
“Well, that and we needed your cryogenic tube. We’re freezing a bunch of our supervillians and carriers of our most fatal diseases in order to enslave the future.”
Dr. Muhammed laughed and rubbed his hands together “They won’t see it coming.”
“Then what’s going to happen to me?” Charles asked.
“You’re likely to wind up in jail. There are reports coming out that Captain Apocalypse murdered everyone on his cellblock, so there’s probably a bed available.”
Dr. Muhammed clapped his hands together “Hey, a free bed. Now there’s some good news.”
Dr. Smith injected something into Charles’ arm and he quickly fell asleep. The two doctors watched as robot nurses wheeled him from the room.
“Do you think we should have told him that the pennies remaining in his bank account when he was frozen have now made him the world’s richest man?” asked Dr. Smith

“Nah” shrugged Dr. Muhammed, as he shook his watch and put his stethoscope to its back. “It didn’t seem important.”

THE END