O is for Outlaw Page 2

"Sure, no problem. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I'm hoping this is something I can do for you," he said. "I'm a storage space scavenger. Are you familiar with the term?"

"I'm afraid not." I pulled the chair out and sat down, realizing Ted Rich was going to take his sweet time about this. I'd already pegged him as a salesman or a huckster, someone thoroughly enamored of whatever minor charms he possessed. I didn't want what he was selling, but I decided I might as well hear him out. This business of storage space scavenging was a new one on me, and I gave him points for novelty.

He said, "I won't bore you with details. Basically, I bid on the contents of self-storage lockers when the monthly payment's in arrears."

"I didn't know they did that on delinquent accounts. Sounds reasonable, I suppose." I took the towel from my gym bag and ruffed it across my head. My hair was still damp from the workout and I was getting chillier by the minute, longing to hit the shower before my muscles stiffened up.

"Oh, sure. Storage unit's been abandoned by its owner for more'n sixty days, the contents go up for auction. How else can the company recoup its losses? Guys like me show up and blind-bid on the contents, paying anywheres from two hundred to fifteen hundred bucks, hoping for a hit."

"As in what?" I reached down, untied my Sauconys, and slipped them off my feet. My gym socks smelled atrocious, and I'd only worn them a week.

"Well, most times you get junk, but once in a while you get lucky and come across something good. Tools, furniture-stuff you can convert to hard cash. I'm sure you're pro'bly curious what this has to do with you."

"It crossed my mind," I said mildly, anticipating his pitch. For mere pennies a day, you too can acquire abandoned bric-a-brac with which to clutter up your premises.

"Yeah, right. Anyways, this past Saturday, I bid on a couple storage bins. Neither of 'em netted much, but in the process I picked up a bunch of cardboard boxes. I was sorting through the contents and came across your name on some personal documents. I'm wondering what it's worth to you to get 'em back."

"What kind of documents?"

"Lemme see here. Hold on. Frankly, I didn't expect to hear so soon or I'd have had 'em on the desk in front of me." I could hear him rattling papers in the background. "Okay now. We got a pink-bead baby bracelet and there's quite a collection of school-type memorabilia: drawings, class pictures, report cards from Woodrow Wilson Elementary. This ringin' any bells with you?"

"My name's on these papers?"

"Kinsey Millhone, right? Millhone with two I's. Here's a history report entitled `San Juan Capistrano Mission,' with a model of the mission made of egg cartons. Mrs. Rosen's class, fourth grade. She gave you a D plus. `Report is not bad, but project is poorly presented,' she says. I had a teacher like her once. What a bitch," he said idly. "Oh, and here's something else. Diploma says you graduated Santa Teresa High School on June tenth, 1967? How'm I doin' so far?"

"Not bad."

"Well, there you go," he said.

"Not that it matters, but how'd you track me down?"

"Piece of cake. All I did was call Directory Assistance. The name Millhone's unusual, so I figure it's like the old saying goes: Apples don't fall far from the tree and so forth. I proceeded on the assumption you were somewheres close. You could've got married and changed your name, of course. I took a flier on that score. Anyways, the point is, how d'you feel about gettin' these things back?"

"I don't understand how the stuff ended up in Olvidado. I've never rented storage space down there."

I could hear him begin to hedge. "I never said Olvidado. Did I say that? I go to these auctions all over the state. Lookit, I don't mean to sound crass, but if you're willing to pony up a few bucks, we can maybe make arrangements for you to get this box back."

I hesitated, annoyed by the clumsiness of his maneuvering. I remembered my struggle in Mrs. Rosen's class, how crushed I'd been with the grade after I'd worked so hard. The fact was, I had so little in the way of personal keepsakes that any addition would be treasured. I didn't want to pay much, but neither was I willing to relinquish the items sight unseen.

I said, "The papers can't be worth much since I wasn't aware they were missing." A'_ready, I didn't like him and I hadn't even met him yet.

"Hey, I'm not here to argue. I don't intend to hose you or nothin' like that. You want to talk value, we talk value. Up to you," he said.

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