The Sinister Sale
Reading Time: 8 minutes
At first, it looked like the whole gloomy world was made of vertical bars. They were black against a dark gray background. Then, there was a hazy dome of white light in the distance. It illuminated the bars which transformed into a forest of tall trees. The white light flicked off to be replaced by long beams that sliced around like two independent eyes. The men with the torches moved nearer; they both carried spades. When they drew alongside, one said to the other: “Who was he?”
The other guy, whose shadow made him giant, grunted more than spoke: “Some sales guy the boss got tired of. He was always late.”
The first guy thought: “He is now.”
A week later, Eric Spalvik woke up to a bright Monday morning. Birds sang from his garden, and he felt cheery. It would be a good day. He’d make it so.
He made a coffee for the drive to the office and kissed his kids goodbye. They were doing remote learning from home but the younger one looked unhappy with something. Then, he kissed his wife, Bettina, as well. When she pulled away, she looked tense, lips pressed together, her eyes pleading.
Eric knew what that was about. Finances were tight, way too tight. In fact, they were dire. In the dark days of lockdowns and masks, there was no security and Bettina sensed there was no future. Nowadays, she felt an eerie sense of doom.
As he drove to work, Eric focused on the day ahead. His office/warehouse was not in the nicest part of town, to put it mildly. But, he was the proud owner, CEO, CFO, and sales manager of Spalvik Bathroom and Kitchen Supplies. And, there were seven staff who depended on him. His assistant, Melanie, was loyal and honest. He’d made it clear to her that something good had to happen … and fast. Luckily, it did, but it came at a dreadful cost.
By 10:15 that morning, Eric was running through the emails he hadn’t got to on Friday, using MercurySays to create great replies. Then, he came upon an email that was different. MercurySays analyzed that the writer was angry, combative, and spiteful. That was strange because the writer wasn’t a customer. Eric had heard the guy’s name before but had never met him.
He wrote an excellent response and, an hour later, another message dropped into his inbox. “We want bathroom supplies: drop-in sinks, mirrors, faucets, toilets, showers and shower heads.” It was then that Eric noticed the full signature. This guy was a big deal in the hotel and apartment business in seven states. The email specified he wanted Eric to meet him at 2:35 that afternoon. There was an address, too. Eric couldn’t and wouldn’t refuse.
Eric reread the email and felt the warmth of the sun on his back. It poured in through the office window which now had vertical metal bars that he’d had installed after the most recent break-in. The room was striped.
Eric checked the weather forecast on his iPhone. Another warm summer’s day with the possibility of a storm. Eric imagined a few clouds bunching on the horizon.
The address in the email was 25 miles out of town in a beautiful valley with a wide, winding river and tall trees broken by green farmlands. When Eric found the place, he had to double check. There was a high, red-brick wall, and the only entrance was through massive iron gates. He pressed the intercom, explained who he was, and the gates groaned open. He didn’t see the guard with the Smith & Wesson M&P15 who watched him from beside the clanging gate. He drove down the half-mile, white gravel driveway to the biggest house he had ever seen. It seemed to have three sides, each three stories high with round turrets. He didn’t know yet that there was a back section of the house that extended well into the garden.
Eric carried a small leather organizer which held an iPad and a couple of printed brochures, which he brought along in case someone wanted something on paper. The moment after he climbed the granite stairs to the front door and pressed the buzzer, he got a message from Bettina. Their youngest had taken ill: vomiting, headache, sore throat. Bettina was scared. She asked Eric to come home immediately. He quickly tapped a reply saying he would be there as soon as he could. But, his worry was not just about his child. A horrible thought flashed through his mind: medical bills. That would be the end of him. His insurance wouldn’t do the job. Not for hospital care. There was a distant rumble of thunder. Must be one of those “possible” storms brewing somewhere in the hills to the south.
The man who opened the front door was huge. Tall, deep chest, massive hands. He hissed: “You’re late. Don’t do that. Never be late. Never.” He subtly shook his head. Then one of those huge hands touched Eric’s chest: “Boss’s orders. I have to check for weapons.”
Eric blinked in surprise and, as he was frisked, he saw the giant had a holstered Glock 19 under his jacket.
After a suspicious grunt, the man turned and led Eric through a house of ornate splendor. A two-story section extended behind the main entrance. Every room had a different color theme: there was a sitting room with a massive carved marble fireplace, there was a library with a grand piano, there was another room filled with potted palms and a huge fishpond under a stained-glass roof, and yet another was a ballroom with a shiny mahogany floor that could easily accommodate 100 guests. Eric could barely keep his mouth from gaping. The odd thing was that all the windows were closed. Most of the curtains were drawn, too. So, the place was silent and stuffy. Lifeless.
There were plenty of cleaning and other staff in the house. They whispered, looking grim and busy as they slyly watched him pass by. There were more guards with those ominous Glock bulges on the left side of their chests. Cameras swiveled to follow Eric’s progress.
The giant threw open the double doors into a huge office with a wall of glass that opened onto a large pool and perfectly mown lawns that vanished into the far distance. Behind an 1840s satinwood and green leather desk sat a grizzled old man who eyed Eric uneasily. He opened his mouth but said nothing. Eric immediately thought the man was like a turtle. But, he didn’t move slowly. He snapped: “You’re late. Don’t do that again. Let’s see what you’ve got.” With the tilt of his head, he dismissed the giant. Eric silently wondered why the old man had asked him to come here. He could have seen everything on Eric’s website. And, all the brochures were electronic.
As the old man sucked his teeth, considering, Eric made his sales pitch which, as usual, involved him stumbling around hopelessly. He was nervous, which didn’t help. But, he plunged on. He needed this sale, any sale. “Of course, if the order is big enough I … I … I can give you a bulk discount.” Eric spoke before there was even a hint that his prices were too high.
The old man waved his veined, boney hand dismissively. He named the items he required then said: “I want 25 of each. I’m renovating some of the Hillside Plaza Apartments.”
Eric exhaled rapidly, as if he’d been punched. This was a good deal. It would give him a chance. “I’ll get things organized and send you the invoice.” Eric quickly figured that the order was near to $90,000. He might make $5,000 after expenses. A life saver.
The old man mumbled. “Wait till I send my order. You can find your way out.”
“Er, yes. Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
Maybe he was thinking of the money too much. Maybe he took a wrong turn. Eric soon found himself desperately trying to remember the way back to the front of the house and the entrance hall. He followed a corridor but the door at the end was locked. He was sure it was the right way. There were other doors, but they were locked, too. Where were all those guards when he needed them? Where were the cleaners?
Gusts of wind rattled the windows and Eric could see that the clouds had descended and were now a dark writhing purple. Lightning flickered menacingly along a ridge of hills in the distance.
In the gloom, he found just one door unlocked. Another dimly lit corridor. He kept on, trying to remember which way he was headed. Really, he had no idea.
Then, he saw a faint line of light seeping under the bottom edge of a door. This must lead outside.
When he threw open the door, he realized he was terribly mistaken. And, what he saw, he couldn’t unsee.
He stepped into a warehouse. There were wooden pallets loaded with plastic bags full of pale powder. There was the faint aroma of vinegar. The bags had rough Chinese characters printed on them. Erik knew it was drugs, some sort of drugs, but he didn’t know that he was staring at a massive haul of China White: a lethal mix of heroin and fentanyl. Along one wall were enough weapons for a small army.
Then, he heard voices. Someone called out. Eric bolted back through the door and stumbled along a maze of corridors until he burst, almost falling, into the entrance hall. The giant was waiting there. He looked up, only slightly surprised.
Eric mumbled something about being in a hurry to get home. His child was ill.
He felt a huge surge of relief as he drove through the gates as the rain began to pelt down. When he reached home, he learned that his youngest boy had been admitted to the hospital’s children’s ward and Bettina was with him. A neighbor was keeping an eye on his older child.
Two hours later, in a quiet moment in the hospital, he spoke to Bettina: “I got a good order today. It will really help.” Unfortunately, she was so stressed she barely cared.
Of course, Eric failed to mention the warehouse and the dread he felt. Should he go to the police? Should he pretend he never saw it?
That night, Bettina stayed with their boy, and Eric went home for some agonizing hours of sheer torment accompanied by the sound of short sharp downpours and crackling lightning.
The morning was bright and sunny. Eric drove his older boy to his sister’s place then hurried to the office. Melanie could see how washed out and weary he was, but she had news that could not wait. A letter had arrived that morning from the attorney of a wholesaler demanding immediate payment of $24,540 or legal action would be taken.
His mind swimming, Eric sat in his office scanning through his emails. He saw the order from the old man, but it had changed. He now wanted 150 sets of everything rather than the 25 he mentioned yesterday. He offered a price 20% higher than Eric would have asked. He said he’d pay the full price up front. All Eric had to do was to sign and return the order form.
It was then that Eric noticed there was a second attachment on the email. When he opened it, he saw a photograph. It chilled him to his stomach. It was taken from ceiling height, looking down. It showed Eric standing in the warehouse, touching a pallet load of drugs.
In a daze, Eric printed out the order form, lay it on the desk in front of him. Found a pen. Held it above the place where he was supposed to sign and … and … waited. The shadows of the vertical bars outside his office window left dark stripes across his back.
What do you think Eric should do?