15)  Thursday, January 31st  “Who’ll Vouch for Tom?”


Tom Eppert marched into the crowded Giga-Plex, looked ‘round for Ray Wilson after brushing off Lester’s greeting, finally settling on Honey Keissler, giving her his best Ahrnuld Schwarzenegger impression… howsoever she might be reminded of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”…

       “I’m ba-ack!”

“Is that supposed to mean something?  I mean…” she frowned, then glanced slyly up to Big Sonny’s cameras on the ceiling, preserving every word, every gesture for posterity… or, rather, for Waco.  “I mean, welcome to Giga-Plex, can I help you.”

“Yeah!” he said, sidling over to a somewhat diminished pyramid of converters – now marked up to $189.95.  “Yeah!  Gimme one of those!”

So that there would be no mistaking his intent, he waved the voucher Lenny had given him after taking delivery of his new set.

Gotta voucher?” Honey blinked.  She took an order pad from the pouch in her red vest and began writing Tom’s order up.  “Take this ticket to the register when you pay and they’ll give you a receipt.   When you go out to the loading dock, you get a fresh model in the original box.”

       Tom nodded.  “I know the drill…”

          Making for the register, passing the HDTV display and the throng gathered around the Dominator glued to the back and forth between House Speaker Hillary Clinton and the President’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani as the second and most explosive of six major impeachment processes (that of Kavanaugh had been ratified and forwarded to the Senate, those of Vice-President Meldrim and SCOTUS picks, ex-Senator Luther Strange and former Speaker and interim Veep Newt Gingrich were in the pipeline) rattled onward, he noted that, while Ray Wilson wasn’t around, a different salesman in a red vest was pitching the virtues of the Dominator to an elderly couple.  Tom shook his head, got in line behind a kid in a C-Money t-shirt, defying the weather, writhing to whatever steaming nonsense was streaming through his headset.  Vicki Gordon snapped her finger… the kid gave her his ticket.

          Shaktiar Mongoose… forty-five inch, that’ll be hmm…” Vicki scanned, “with tax, comes to eight eighty-six, fifty-four.  Are you paying by check, charge card, debit…

The kid removed his headphones, answering in a slurred, tentative voice… “Is it OK if I… like… pay money?”  And he wrestled a worn billfold from the hip pocket of his baggy jeans and started slapping Benjamins down on the counter.  Vicki shrugged, picked them out, counting, and handed one back…”

          “You gave me ten.  That’ll be thirteen forty-six in change…”

          The kid smiled, shaking a cigarette from its pack.  “Keep it.  Ahh… like… you wanna go out with me sometime, sweet thang?”

          “I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to accept tips.  And my boyfriend wouldn’t like it if I went out with another man,” Vicky set him down… easily, on account of the Benjamins… “he’s a football player, with a terrible temper… and, by the way, there’s no smoking here, not anywhere in the mall…”

          And she nodded over her shoulder to one of the armed Screaming Eagle security guards by the door.

          “Hey, gotta try,” the kid told a fuming Tom, fist clenching his ticket, then lowered his voice with furtive pride.  “Least she called me man, man!  Them Indian televisions suck, but for under a thou, dude, what can you do?”  He took his ticket and left before Eppert decided to punch his lights out so, instead, Tom presented Vicki the ticket and his voucher…

          “That boy is probably a narcotics dealer,” he told the cashier, “or in some way breaking the law…”

          “Might be.  Money looked good enough, though…” Vicki held up the voucher, “do you have a picture ID, Mr. Witcher?”

          “Huh, oh… the voucher, that’s not me,” Tom demurred, “I’m uh… picking up one of these converters for a friend.  We’re sorta goin’ in on it together, with a couple other guys, a syndicate, like…”

          “Uh, I don’t know about this… oh… Mr. Tennison!”  And, as she waved, the gold-vested manager turned from a customer at the end of the line over at the next register… apparently having second thoughts about the Azeri car television he’d hoisted into a Giga-Plex buggy.

          “This better be good…” Mark warned the cashier.

          “This gentleman,” Vicki pointed, “he’s buying the basic converter, but he’s using some other guy’s voucher, says it’s from his friend that they’re buying, like, together…”

          Tom knew a decision-maker when he saw one.  “It’s a syndicate.  Lenny an’ I work at the same place, the Fed down thataway…” he growled, as if the holdup was an imposition on national security, “I destroy the old currency, he prints up the new, only on a later shift, so I’m picking up for him.  We’re goin’ in together… couple others, quarters, the game, you know…” his voice trailed off…

Despite the booming business and likelihood of a hefty bonus (that might, even, make up for thin pickings over the last two Christmases) Mark was in a surly mood… so many stupid animals to deal with, trying to pretend as if they knew anything, trying to chisel down the prices Big Sonny had directed, yesterday, be raised just for them!  So many of their stupid questions!  And this pretentious fuck, holding him up over… over a fuckin’ converter that he’d most likely return under some pretense or other after Superbowl fifty three…

“Sir,” he cleared his throat, “Sir, you’re not going to be able to use that voucher.  The Federal voucher program has very stringent rules, you cannot purchase merchandise on another person’s voucher.  It’s cheating, stealing, actually… so just give your friend back his voucher and either use your own, or pay the full price…

“Aww – give another workin’ guy a break,” Tom wheedled.  “OK, I lost the damn thing!  Satisfied?  Whattya think – I got this ring of mafias goin’ round and illegally buying converters for all them real fancy televisions that are like, ten years old n’ worth maybe ten bucks… do I look like some sorta wise guy…”

No, that you do not, but you can’t use Mr. Uh… Witcher, is it… as your alias, and if you don’t want the merchandise, I’m asking that you leave the premises…”

And he motioned to the Screaming Eagle with the nametag Lester on his breast… Lester Capps.



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