I’ve been watching this guy for about a week now. Ever since they announced they were tearing down the Bargain Time.
Back in the day, Bargain Time was on of those places that sold a little bit of everything. Tools and clothes and toys and kitchen stuff and chain saws and appliances, all under one roof. Used to be lots of places like that around. Sears. TG&Y. Gaylords. Now there’s just Targets and Walmarts, and one day they’ll dry up into empty husks, just like Bargain Time is now, and somebody like me will tear them down.
First time I saw this guy was after the city awarded us the contract to demolish the Bargain Time. I drove out to it the next night. I needed to study it. My boss had told me that if we got the bid I’d be heading up the demo crew. My first time. I was determined to get it right.
I pulled into a broken landscape of crumbling asphalt conquered by weeds and dandelions. Light poles, their bulbs shattered by rocks and rifles, kept watch. Bargain Time brooded over it all, paint peeling, its windows like dark mouths gaping with teeth of jagged glass.
I’d heard there were holes in the roof, letting rain and sun pour in. I imagined tongues of old linoleum curled up between abandoned shelves, floors peeled down to cracked concrete.
In dim dashboard light I started a list of things to check. Load-bearing walls and the integrity of joists and such. As I was thinking, I saw a piece of darkness break away from the shadowed storefront, watched it move out onto the main road and turn away, lights flickering on as it disappeared behind overgrown border hedges.
Kids, I figured. But I wondered, and drove back the next night to see.
I parked where I had before. I’d brought binoculars and they were mostly useless in the dark, but I saw the truck and I saw someone going in and out of the store through one of the glassless windows, carrying bundles and loading them into the big toolbox fastened to the truck’s bed. Three times, three big bundles, and then they drove away.
The next day my boss and I came to Bargain Time, and we walked in the ruins and discussed the best ways to complete its fall. As we walked and talked, I looked for bundles, or places to hide bundles, but I had to pay attention and answer questions and give opinions, and didn’t see what I was looking for.
When we were done I drove to the next county and went to a military surplus store and bought some night vision goggles. I hit a drive-through for a burger and a drink and drove back to Bargain Time.
He was there, and with the goggles I could see him and his truck. He only made one trip, a last bundle, big enough to fill both arms. As he secured it in the toolbox, I wondered again what it could be.
Maybe he was harvesting old brick to build a barbecue in his backyard.
Maybe he was salvaging wood.
Maybe he’d robbed an armored car, and had hidden his bags of cash in the old Bargain Time.
Whatever it was, he’d heard that we were going to tear the building down, and he’d come to get his.
I wanted to know what it was.
I wanted to know if it was something I might want.
I put my surplus store night vision goggles down on the passenger seat, where they snuggled up next to my surplus store hunting knife.
When he drove out of the parking lot, I followed.