Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 10)

Warning: Strong Language, Mature Themes

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip had infiltrated Kerry Vacuums and suffered through a douche-chill-inducing team meeting. Now, she and Duncan are forced to endure a ride-along with the world's most dysfunctional sales team.

After the morning meeting, the workers trooped out to a fleet of nondescript white vans. Pip and Duncan hung back for a moment to adjust their recording devices.

“I can't believe we're wearing wires,” Pip gushed. “This is like a proper sting operation.”

“Just don't break yours,” said Duncan. “It's M.P.R. property.” He fidgeted with his microphone, unpinning and repinning it to his undershirt. “They'd totally shit if they knew we were wearing them concealed like this.”

“How come?”

“Because we're not reporters, first off. And even if we were, M.P.R. journalists aren't supposed to wear concealed recorders. It makes them look underhanded.”

“Oh.” Pip considered this. “So the fact that Charles gave them to us with explicit instructions to wear them under our clothes-”

“Is more evidence of your corrupting influence, yes.” Duncan rolled his eyes at her. “You don't have to look so excited about it.”

“Who's excited?”

He snorted. “Never mind. Let's get this freak show on the road.”

****

“Welcome to the Inner Sanctum,” Eddie said, with a mystical wave of his hands.

Pip scanned the van, the inside of which was as unremarkable as the outside. Bracketed by tinted windows were three rows of seats. In the back row sat Andrea and Preston. In the middle sat Ron. The driver's seat held Eddie, while the front passenger's seat played host to two Kerry Vacuum boxes, one stacked atop the other. A stale, chemical smell hung in the air.

Pip sniffed. “Is someone smoking meth in here?”

“Not yet,” Andrea said, then burst into a fit of braying laughter.

Preston silenced her with a glare. “Keep it down, Andrea,” he said. “We're not even out of the parking lot yet.”

Andrea slouched, abashed. “Sorry.”

“The Inner Sanctum,” Eddie repeated, as if the previous conversation had never happened. “A vacuum salesman's van is his home away from home. This is where we dream, scheme, and strategize, but also where we bond as a family. Sales work is really about human relationships, and we build them here.”

Pip was only half-listening. Her attention was drawn by something thick and book-like in the back pocket of the front passenger's seat. She reached into the pocket and drew out a magazine, the cover of which featured a young woman in a Catholic school uniform. The woman's plaid skirt was rucked up around her spread thighs and she was sucking on her right index finger. Above her head, the title of the publication stood out in carnal red lettering: SCHOOL-AGE SLUTS.

“Human relationships,” Pip repeated, leafing casually through the high-gloss pages.

In one fluid, equally casual movement, Eddie snatched the magazine out of her hands and tossed it under the passenger's seat.

“That's right,” he said. “Why don't you take a seat next to your fiance? Your brother can sit with Andrea and Preston.”

“Watch out,” Preston told Duncan. “She bites.”

“Only the cute ones,” said Andrea. She snapped her jaw in Duncan's direction, then broke into another fit of raucous laughter.

“My life is so awesome,” Duncan mumbled miserably as he pushed past Pip and maneuvered toward the back of the van.

Pip took her place next to Ron, who gave her thigh an affectionate squeeze.

“I'm so glad you decided to come along today,” he told her. “It really means a lot.”

“No problem,” she replied. The smallest shiver of guilt ran up her back. The point of her subterfuge wasn't to stab Ron in the back, but she knew it would look that way when dragged into the cold light of day. It was possible that he wouldn't forgive her.

It was also possible that she wouldn't care.

Eddie started the van.

****

By the time the sales team reached its destination, Pip's lungs were full of second-hand meth and her ears with inane chatter. The latter consisted mostly of exhortations to pass the pipe and cries of “dumb bitch” aimed at anyone who failed to pass it fast enough.

Eddie alone failed to partake. He drove in silence, staring absently through the windshield while drumming his hands on the steering wheel. The smile on his face never faltered, not even when Preston dropped the pipe on the floor and he and Andrea began slapping each other. There was something unnerving about his composure. If there was anyone to watch out for, Pip decided, it was Eddie.

“We're here!” Eddie sang, bringing the van to a halt.

Following the lead of her temporary co-workers, Pip exited the vehicle and found herself in a neighborhood almost indistinguishable from the one she'd visited two days before. Here were those same mass-produced homes in those same mass-produced shades of tan, taupe, and beige. Here were the manicured lawns, the tarry black driveways, the golden retrievers barking behind spotless chain fences.

Here was nausea as Pip's brain played the association game, taking in these sights and spitting out images of mangled bodies and messages scrawled in blood. She swallowed her resurgent breakfast and listened to Eddie's instructions.

“Pip and Duncan, I'm going to have you shadow for the first two demonstrations. Watch how the rest of us do it. After that, we'll have you try it on your own.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Duncan. “You mean you actually expect us to sell vacuums?”

“We ask only that you try. We'll pay you if you manage to sell anything, but we're not counting on it. These things take practice.”

“Smells like free labor either way. What if we don't want to practice?”

A slight dimming of the eyes was Eddie's only outward sign of displeasure. “Then I can't imagine what you're doing here.”

Pip's stomach dropped. She cleared her throat, imbuing the sound with as much shut-up-Duncan as she could manage.

“He's kidding,” she said. “We're here to learn.”

Eddie smiled wider than ever. “Great! In that case, we'll get started.”