Phil lumbered out of his truck and opened the lock he had placed on the storage unit that morning. The orange door slid open, revealing the stacks of boxes that hid the value he saw during the five minutes of allotted time before bidding commenced. He hoped he’d find treasure in the back, and not just well wrapped junk.
He’d paid a thousand bucks for this treasure hunt. He needed this one to pay out. He was down a few hundred this month. Same as last month. The summer’s profits were gone, and the thrill went with them. A gnawing desperation took its place.
Behind the boxes, he could see the furniture encased in plastic. Couch, loveseat, table and chairs. That’s what he needed. If it was nice enough, he could sell it that day. Make up the money. Get the debt collectors to stop calling. If it was junk, he’d disconnect the phone.
He tossed the boxes aside, papers and photos spilling out on the asphalt.
“Hey. You need any help there?”
Phil looked back and saw a man standing behind him. He looked familiar, but Phil couldn’t place him. “Just trying to get these boxes out of the way.”
“Sure. Let me get some of those for you.” The man picked up a few boxes, carefully stacking them outside the unit.
Phil figured he must have been at the auction that morning. Guys were often curious what was in the lockers they didn’t win. “You bid on this?”
“No.” He continued to pull the boxes out carefully and stack them neatly. “Why?”
“Oh. You looked familiar is all.”
“I get that a lot.” Boxes in neat stacks. Careful placement.
Phil examined the nearly six foot man with his average build and short but not cropped hair. He looked like a thousand people he’d run into. “What’s your name?”
“James Smith.” Neat stacks. Careful placement.
“Yeah. I know. Boring parents, I guess.” Neat. Careful.
“You don’t need to be so careful. The boxes are just crap. I’ll be throwing that…”
James was on him. Shoved Phil back into the locker, forearm against his throat. “That crap is someone’s life, you piece of shit.”
Phil shook his head, struggled for a breath. “This your stuff, man?”
James spit in his face. “No. It’s not. I’m just not a douche.”
“What do you want?” Phil felt the pressure build. It felt a lot like the last time he’d failed to pay an irregular loan he had to take. Hadn’t had a bank account in years, so he made due.
“A little human decency.”
Phil nodded. “Yeah, sorry.” He felt the pressure slacken. “What do you want?”
James took a deep breath and his mood lightened again. “Just take care of the stuff. Have the manager call the contact information. Anyone answers, tell them they can pick it up.”
Phil glanced again at the furniture. Each of the ten bills he’d handed over for the unit burned away in his mind’s eye. He couldn’t just let it all go. He needed this one. Treasure was lurking in the bac, he could feel it. He needed it.
He lunged at the stranger.
James stepped aside and swung his arm.
It hit Phil in the back of the head. He hit the floor.
A knee landed on his back.
His breath escaped and wouldn’t return.
“I thought we had a deal here.” James grabbed Phil’s hair and slammed his face down. “What seems to be the problem?”
Phil spit out a tooth. “Shit man, what’s it to you?”
“I’m sick of parasites feasting on death and loss.” He took a photo and shoved it under Phil’s face. “Look. These are people. Lives. Memories.”
“I’m just trying to get by.”
“Bullshit! Tossing this shit out don’t help you. You just care about the cash.”
“Man, I got to have this. I need the money. I’m at the end.”
James eased off. Sighed. “Shit. Take the furniture. Leave the boxes.”
“Yeah?” Phil sat up, wiping blood and spit away.
“Hurry up. I got a call to make.”