OIL IN WATER
Weeks after Avery’s visit, a shiny silver oil tanker sat positioned to fill the underground holding tank at Cooper’s Service Station. Water droplets ran in impromptu lines down the windshield. The driver grabbed his clipboard, jumped down from the vehicle, and throwing his hood over his head, strode to the office through the misty fog. He burst through the door into the office, a futile move since he could see through the glass that no one was in there. He scanned the garage floor, his eyes settling on the closest mechanic, Tom Johnson, only three days on the job. The driver approached with long, unhurried steps that belied his impatience.
He wasted no time with niceties. “Cooper here?”
“He stepped out for a sandwich.”
“Business off or something?”
“No. I don’t think,” said Johnson.
“What d’ya’ mean, you don’t think? I ain’t been here for two weeks. You should be bone dry, but you still got a lot left.”
“Got some yesterday,” Johnson said.
The driver furrowed his brows, annoyance creeping across his face. “Jesus Christ. How many times I have to tell that guy? Listen you. This is the third time I’ve been out here and the third time…” The driver doffed his hood revealing a pair of menacing eyes.
“Who is it? Exxon? Texaco?” He rubbed his hand over two days of stubble. “Chevron?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
The driver took a step forward. “I got better things to do than come here every week for no reason,” he said, looking like he might throttle Johnson, clipboard and all.
Johnson took a step back. He was suddenly and acutely aware of the sheer volume of sound at his back, the whir and hiss and clink of the body shop, all stations in use, Mr. Cooper’s half-dozen motor heads fully engaged in their work. This guy could pummel him to a bloody pulp and no one would notice or hear a thing until they stepped over him to get to the free coffee which was now feuding with the breakfast burrito in Johnson’s stomach.
“Look, I just started three days ago.” Johnson turned to the room at large looking for support, but every last man had his head in or under a hood, engine, or wheel base.
“Sunoco? Getty? Who is it? I at least have a right to know?”
“I don’t know his name…” The driver stepped so close that Johnson could smell the man’s coffee breath.
“I’ll ask it slow so you’re little pea-brain can register it. What – is – the – name – of – the – company – that – delivered – here – this – week?”
“There was no a company. It was a guy. And I told you, I don’t know.”
“Then who’s he work for?”
The driver’s eyes narrowed and he moved even closer. In addition to coffee, Johnson now identified the distinct smells of petrol and body odor. Johnson flinched, cleared his throat.
“He doesn’t work for anybody. He’s just a kid makes oil is all.” His voice cracked. The driver was too close.
The driver furrowed his brow, lost in thought.
Johnson caught a movement on the periphery of his vision and turned to see Jim Snyder, the Assistant Manager, speed-walking toward them.
“Can I help you?” Snyder asked the driver.
“You tell Cooper he’ll be hearing from Akanabi.” The driver turned on his heel and stomped out the door into the rain.
“What the heck was that about?” Snyder asked. Johnson demurred, shaken.
“You have no idea?”
“That kid that brings the gas and oil. Who is he?” Johnson asked.
“No one for you to worry about.” Snyder walked to the office and looked over the papers on the desk, shifting them around. He walked back onto the floor, empty-handed.
“Where’s the invoice?” Johnson said nothing.
“Did he even fill the tanks today?” Snyder asked, more harshly then Johnson thought appropriate.
Johnson nodded. “Yeah, but I guess not much.”
“Do you know why?”
“He said they didn’t take much.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. Just that some kid brings some gas and oil sometimes.”
Snyder’s face bloomed and he sputtered, “You told him about Avery?”
Tirabi. That was it. Johnson coughed. “What was I supposed to say?”
Snyder eyed him up. “All right,” Snyder said, as Mr. Cooper crossed the threshold to the shop. “Get back to work. I’ll take care of it.”
Johnson returned to his station, trying to look busy – he was almost done retrofitting some new brake pads – but his eyes kept drifting to the scene in the office with Cooper gesticulating like crazy and Snyder alternating between grimacing and nodding his head. Mr. Cooper appeared more resigned than indignant. Perhaps he’d keep his job after all. The thought was quickly replaced by the next thing Johnson saw.
Avery Tirabi was pulling into the parking lot just as the giant tanker was pulling out. Apparently, the driver didn’t care that Avery had the right-of-way and pulled out across two lanes of traffic right in front of Ruth’s minivan. Both Avery and the driver slammed on their brakes, a near miss, and proceeded to yell and lean on their respective horns. After a full minute of this, with cars backing up behind Avery on the highway, the driver put it in reverse giving Avery enough room to squeeze into the parking lot. The driver flipped Avery the bird as he drove by and Avery responded in kind.
With the diligence of a worker bee, Johnson buried his head and shoulders beneath the wheel base, too nervous to even peek.
“Hey, Mr. Cooper,” Avery said. The door rattled shut with a bang and a jingle.
“Avery!” Mr. Cooper looked up with a start. He hadn’t seen Avery coming, engrossed as he was in Snyder’s story, and felt like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. He cleared his throat and ran a hand over his eyebrows, hoping to hide his embarrassment.
“You okay?” Avery asked. Cooper nodded and smiled.
“Fine. Fine. Bit of a headache is all. Glad you’re here, son,” he said, motioning to a chair. “Sit down.” Avery obliged, first extending a hand to Snyder in a show of both manners and adultness.
“Look, Avery, I’m gonna be honest with you. We may have a problem.” Mr. Cooper stopped, weighed his words, wondering if the kid’s self-possession could withstand this potential pitfall. “That Akanabi Oil guy that just left? He was pretty P.O.’d.”
“Not much of a delivery. He wanted to know who the new supplier was.” Mr. Cooper walked over and poured a cup of coffee which he handed to Avery. Avery shook his head at the tar-like substance so Cooper drank it himself.
“Did you tell them?” Avery’s voice quivered slightly.
“No. He talked to one of the guys on the floor. Snyder and I are the only ones with that information.” Cooper sighed and sat down. “Likely the driver’s gonna call dispatch and tell them it’s the third week in a row we had a sub-standard delivery. He’ll recommend canceling us because we got another supplier.”
“Well, we’re almost out,” Avery said.
Mr. Cooper stared out the window. The rain had stopped and the sky was clearing. A slow smile spread across his face. He looked blankly at Avery, took a sip of his coffee and cleared his throat. “Too damn hot,” he said to himself. He rolled his ailing tongue, massaging the burned spot, and sat down at his desk.
“Avery?” Cooper said, smiling again. “What if you supplied me?”
“Me?! I can’t. I told you, we’re almost out.”
“Well, how about making some more? I’d take all you had. I’m not the biggest station in town, but we’re busy enough.” Mr. Cooper looked out the window: six pumps out front, all with cars in front of them at the moment, one in back, just for shop use. He grabbed a sheet of paper and pencil, did some quick calculations and pushed the paper at Avery.
“This is how much you’d gross if you could supply me weekly. I don’t know what you’re overhead is or how much the raw materials cost, but even so, it’s a pretty number, eh?” Avery bent his head to look at the paper and his eyes grew wide. Mr. Cooper smiled. Apparently Avery thought the number very pretty as well.
“I don’t know, Mr. Cooper, I…”
“Look. I’ll take all of what you got left. And in the meantime, think about my offer.”
“Akanabi doesn’t know anything. They’re probably dropping us even as we speak.”
“But what if someone finds out we’re not a real company?”
“No one’s gonna find out. We can arrange pick up at night, after hours, whatever you want.”
Avery furrowed his eyebrows. “Well, I don’t know…”
Mr. Cooper continued. “Don’t worry. The guy that left here today thinks we got a new supplier, not some sixteen-year old kid who invented some damn machine turns trash into gold. He’s not gonna come lookin’ for you, I’m tellin’ ya’.”
“But somebody came looking for us. And they know where we live.”
“Avery. Your father’s been working on that machine for over twenty years. And he told a lot of people. Hell, I even knew about it.”
Avery took a deep breath and folded his hands on his lap.
“Just think about it. If the answer’s no, I can get a new supplier in a couple hours.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Avery said. He shook Mr. Cooper’s hand before leaving. Cooper and Snyder watched him walk to the car.
“Do you think it’ll be okay?” Snyder asked.
“I hope to God, so,” Mr. Cooper said, as Ruth’s minivan pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before jump here. . .