by Roy Bishop
From the cab of his idling wrecker Dwayne Nutter could see the red eviction notice on the front door of the dead man’s apartment. The paint job on the door was a dark green that had faded to the border of brightness. It looked like a bulls-eye from a dimension of rectangles.
Before crossing the lot, Nutter went over his paperwork one more time, aware he was blocking the lone entrance/exit to the complex parking lot. No matter. Nobody poor enough to live here had money to stay out on a weeknight. Those that weren’t getting up to clock in at some shit job in a couple of hours were the night-shifters that wouldn’t be clocking out ‘til daybreak. He was solid.
In another life, Nutter had worked a factory job where people used to refer to 3:00 A.M. as the Hour of the Wolf. It was the hour things went wrong, when machines and freight and sometimes people got broken. But the Ozarks hadn’t seen a wolf in centuries, and Nutter hadn’t seen the inside of a factory since ‘05. As far as he was concerned, 3:00 A.M. was the Hour of the Repo Man. His hour.
A decade of pulling repo gave you a great eye for assessing a situation. For instance, it wasn’t all that hard to see what had really happened behind the door with the eviction notice. Not if you really thought about it. The man in #107 had been a resident of the Broken Oak apartment complex for almost five years. His lease was co-signed by the government, long-term, fixed rate and work from home. Easy street doing whatever the hell the man in #107 had done for a living before he croaked and Broken Oak had posted the sign. Lucky thing for Broken Oak was nobody in Rustin, Missouri was much sold on thinking. So long as Nutter didn’t make too much of a stink towing away the truck, people would keep re-upping their leases when the time came, none the wiser that some fool had cashed out on the other side of their thin plaster walls.
Nutter looked back down to the paperwork. 2007 Ford F-150, super-cab. Black. Decal for a dealer in Michigan. VIN number, license plate, all that jazz. Standard repo ledger, save for the fact this truck had been paid off for almost four years. The owner was no longer in driving shape and the next of kin didn’t want it, so away to the police impound it would go, documented as an “abandoned vehicle." They’d find something useful to do with it, no doubt. Low mileage, no accidents. It had police auction written all over it.
Nutter let a few more minutes go by before he took his foot off the brake and rolled slowly into the lot. He pulled in behind the truck, blocking it in, then shifted to park and rolled down his windows. The block-in and downed windows were a force of habit. Block their escape routes. Keep yours open in case they caught you and started shooting.
He got out and rounded the F-150. It was dirty with worn tires. Probably no alarm to worry about. If there was an alarm, well, there wasn’t any turning it off. The paperwork read “removal of deceased occupant’s vehicle from Broken Oaks lot." He assumed Mr. #107’s keys were probably in Mr. #107’s jeans, which were probably in some plastic bag in a filing cabinet at the city morgue. Bring on the alarm. Nutter had worked next to blaring klaxon alarms in 130-degree trailers for much of his youth, then done ten years pulling repo. Alarms were just background noise at this point.
He took out his pocket flashlight and scoped the VIN number. Dead set match, good to go. He let his wrist relax and raised his eyes and saw pink plastic in the back seat, bright and vibrant in a gleam of his flashlight’s pale blue beam. He looked harder. Booster seat. Pink. Cartoon ponies on the fabric. He looked down to the hub. Sippy-cup in the cup-holder, with some red juice still inside.
That was odd.
Nutter took his phone back out, scrolled to the initial text he’d used to fill out the paperwork. The text had come through at 8:17 P.M. Broken Oak Apartment Complex, Rustin, Missouri. 2007 Black Ford F-150 belonging to deceased resident, to be towed to police impound lot. Tags and VIN number. He’d filled in the blanks about the no next of kin, because next of kin would have picked it up unless…
He looked back to the bull’s-eye door of the apartment.