The Pickup Criterion (2 of 2)

(Today’s post is part two of a two-part story. Part one is here.)

When we left Ken’s house, he leisurely drove us…directly to a supermarket. Although it was one I had seen before from the road, I had never been inside. Honestly, I never really even paid attention to it. It was kind of an upscale place on the edge of one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. As we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a smoker over on one side of the building. I pointed and said, “Hey! That looks like one of your smokers.”

It was a big, black and rusty metal, barrel-looking thing, welded onto a trailer frame, with a smokestack and a metal wraparound frame on top so you could cover it with an awning.

He said simply, “Yeah.”

When we parked and got out, Ken stood for a moment and looked around, like he was thinking about something. It was a lovely evening out, pleasant and warm. About 100 yards from where we were standing was the community’s city hall, police department and fire station. Two firemen were standing over a grill out in front of their station, flipping burgers, visiting casually.

I followed Ken into the market like an obedient dog—directly to the meats. He found the department manager and chatted him up for a minute, asking him a few questions about some mutual acquaintance of theirs. The manager said, “Well, he isn’t here right now. And, tell ya the truth, I haven’t seen him around in a while.”

Ken thanked him and said goodbye, then turned to me as we were walking out and kind of half-whispered, “That’s all I had to hear.”

As we climbed back into my truck, I said, “Sorry we missed your friend.”

He popped it into Reverse and said, “Not me,” as he backed us up directly to the smoker. He got it close and left it running. I joined him, a little disoriented, as he got out and slipped to the back of the truck. He grinned broadly as he set down his toolbox. “Looks like I guessed right on the hitch.”

I was confused. “Uh…What exactly are we doing here?”

“You were right. This is my smoker. But the guy who was smoking meat here hasn’t paid me for more than six months. He hasn’t been returning my calls, and he’s never here when I come to check up on him.” Gesturing toward the market, he continued, “I’m betting he probably owes them money, too, which means they’re gonna want to hang on to my smoker until they can get their money. But we’re not gonna let that happen…right?”

“Right?” I whispered weakly.

A Master lock was on the smoker. Because I’m an idiot, I asked, “Do you have the key?”

He opened his toolbox and said, “Sort of,” and produced a hammer. (It turns out there were maybe five things in that toolbox. I imagined it to also contain a single credit card—for jimmying a door lock—a slim jim, and probably a firearm. Maybe a Taser or a hand grenade.) Motioning his head toward the firemen, he said, “Kind of keep an eye on those guys for me, would ya?” And he went to work.

Did you ever see that old commercial on TV where they shoot through the center of a Master lock with a rifle, and it just stays locked? Let me tell you: That’s a preposterous scenario. The center’s not where the latch is. Here’s the precise moment I realized that fact…

Ken lopped up the side of the lock with a hammer. Whang!!! Nothing. Again, harder. WHANG!!! I peed. (But just a little, not so much that you’d notice).

He hit it again and again, louder and louder each time. He looked up at me with a big grin. “Man, this is a tough one!”

“So I guess you’ve, uh…done this before?” I whispered.

“I’ve had a lot of smokers over the years,” he said—as though that passed for some kind of answer—and he took another swing. And that was the one that snapped the lock. He kicked the chocks out from under the tires, attached it quickly to the hitch, and we were off. About seven hours’ worth of terror for me elapsed in less than two minutes.

When we were a few miles from the market and it was clear we had made not just a clean getaway—but more like pristine one—it was Ken who finally broke the awkward silence. “Does it smell like pee in here?”

Not exactly answering, I offered, “You know what? It’s such a nice night, we should roll down the windows.”

I had just taken part in my first repo job. I knew I was in the family now, and all that that implied. Once you’re in the family, you can never get out. The only way I was ever leaving that engagement or my impending nuptials was in a body bag.

(Today’s post is part two of a two-part story. Part one is here.)

How did YOU know you were “in” with your in-laws? Was it a rite of passage? Or just something boring like a wedding? Did you honestly think that your adorable little padlock would protect your stuff? (That’s so cute.)

7 Responses to “The Pickup Criterion (2 of 2)”

  1. Mark Morris November 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    Ah, yes the Crescent Market. I used to deliver meat to their butcher back in the day. Nice people. Great story, I can totally see Ken doing that. I am sure his favorite part was implicating you without foreknowledge. LOL

    • Brannon December 3, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Went out of my way to be nonspecific about dates and locations. Although I’m certain any statutes of limitations have long since expired, nevertheless “the family” is always watching. Nice knowing you.

  2. Mike Sprouse November 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Brannon, Don’t think Ken’s finished training you in illegal activities !!! Next could be the old repo the warm smoker that has ribs still cooking; carjacking Honda’s ; kidnapping: stealing stars off of X-mas trees ; ETC. You are still a work in progress when it comes to criminal activities that Ken could teach you !!! Have you guys really been married 20 years ?

    • Brannon December 3, 2010 at 1:10 am #

      May will in fact be 20 years. These last 20 years have been the best 7 years of my life. (Not consecutively, of course.)

  3. Cooper Strange December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    I knew I was in with my father-in-law when he had me sit beside him at the banquet table and told the waiter bring me a Jack on the rocks like his. That is the way it is with Asians: you know you’re in when the alcohol starts to pour.

    I have similar stories about moonshine in the mountains trying to help out a few Mennonites…but that is not about the in-laws.

    • Brannon December 3, 2010 at 1:11 am #

      Moonshine Mountain Mennonites is a fantastic bluegrass band name.

  4. Aunt Fran May 30, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Cooper teased me, asking about this story last night and in celebration of you being IN THE FAMILY these now 20 plus years — I thoroughly enjoyed it just now. Family stories are such fun and you tell them so well! I used to repo small items for DSF&A, sure makes your heart race!! That sweet taste of victory!!

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