Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Last Package

Friday, November 19, 1999

I had one more package to drop off before I headed home.  I checked the address.  6--- F--------- Drive, M-----.  Huh?  I've delivered packages on that street before.  But I don't remember THAT address.  And I've got a good memory for this sort of thing; I've been driving a UPS truck on the same route for years.

Well, that was the address printed on the shipping label.  I turned onto F--------- Drive.  As I traveled down the street, the address numbers on the mailboxes increased as expected.  I have to admit, though, that I felt a little like Harry Potter looking for platform 9 3/4.  Like someone had played a big joke on me.

At any rate, I found the house.  This was weird.  I could've sworn I'd driven down this street a hundred times, if I'd done it once, and I had NEVER noticed this house.  I mean, there wasn't anything remarkable about it.  Just another one-story, single-family, brick home like the ones on either side -- or all up and down the street, for that matter.

I climbed out of the truck and retrieved the package.  I checked the address again.  Well, this was the right place.  The package was addressed to "Harriet Klausner" and it was from the publicity department at Minotaur Books.  Never heard of Klausner before.  Never heard of Minotaur Books, either.  Oh well, it didn't seem like anything illegal, and the CONTENTS of the package were none of my concern.

I went up to the door and knocked.  I didn't get an answer, but it didn’t require a signature so I left it by the door.  Time to go home.  I'd made a batch of Cabernet Sauvignon and was anxious to try it out.

Monday, November 22, 1999

I'd had a great weekend -- won some money in a poker game with friends, the wine had turned out great.  I only had a couple more packages in the truck.  A few more stops and I could go home and have dinner.  My wife was making a stew with the last of the venison from the buck I'd shot in October.  Plus, Thanksgiving was later this week so I'd get a few days off.  I couldn't have been in a better mood.

I sorted through the packages.  That was weird -- there were five, and ALL of them were going to "Harriet Klausner" at 6--- F--------- Drive in M-----.  Ah, well.  After last week, I knew that address existed, at least.  And it meant I only had one more stop for the day, not five.  I pulled up to the Klausner home.  The boxes were small enough that I only needed to make one trip.  I walked up the sidewalk, thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye -- someone, or someTHING looking out the front window.  When I looked again, though, it was gone.  My heart fluttered a little bit.  What was I worried about?  It was probably just a cat or a dog or something.

I raised my right fist to knock on the door but found only air when I moved it forward.  Startled, I peered around the stack of packages.  My eyes met the eyes of a woman -- presumably Harriet Klausner, herself.  Hunched over, not too tall, hair that was a bit stringy and dyed an off shade of red, and the eyes -- they darted everywhere, never focused on any one thing for more than a few seconds.

"UPS delivery, ma'am," I said.  She grabbed the packages from me and slammed the door in my face.

Weird stuff.  But, my job was done for the day.  I sang a couple of lines from "Bad Medicine" as I walked back to my truck.  I had that song stuck in my brain all day; probably just because I'd been listening to Bon Jovi over the weekend.  Wish they let us listen to music in our trucks.

Friday, January 14, 2000

Christmas and New Year's came and went.  Y2K amounted to exactly nothing.  And -- I kid you not -- EVERY SINGLE DAY that I drove my route, I dropped off at least one package at the Klausner house.  Sometimes it was two or three packages, and once it was eleven.  All of them from publishers' publicity departments.  What could one person DO with that many books?  Sometimes the same woman grabbed the packages from me, sometimes I left them at the door.  I preferred the times when I knocked and no one answered.  Something about that lady gave me a bad feeling.

Today was no different -- I was not the least bit surprised to find that my last three packages were addressed to "Harriet Klausner" at 6--- F--------- Drive in M-----.  When I pulled up today, there was a kid sitting out front.  Maybe 20 or 21 years old?  Could've been the woman's son, I guess.  I could tell right off that something wasn't quite right with him.  He was reading a book.  Why do that outside, in the middle of January?

He didn't even seem to notice me approach.  "Good book?" I asked.

The kid snapped the book shut faster than I would've thought possible.  It disappeared into his coat.  He didn't say a word.

"Do you want to take these or should I knock?" I asked.

He looked at me all wide-eyed.  Forgive the cliché, but like a deer in the headlights.

The front door opened to reveal the red-haired woman -- Harriet.  She grabbed the boxes, looked from me to the kid.

"What are you doing outside, Eric?" she asked.

"N -- nothing, Mother.  I just took a walk.  I'm coming in now."

He went inside and the door slammed shut, and that was that.

On my way back to drop off the truck, I tried to make sense of it all.  Here's a woman getting dozens -- no, hundreds -- of books delivered.  But her son doesn't want her to know that he's reading?  Goes outside in the middle of winter to avoid being caught?  That's just weird.

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

What can I say?  It was July in Georgia, so it was HOT.  Once again, my last delivery of the day was at 6--- F--------- Drive in M-----.  Only two boxes today.  This time when I pulled up, there was a man standing outside.  Not Eric -- I hadn't seen him again.  This guy was maybe a few years older than I was.  He held a crowbar in one hand, repeatedly slapped it into the open palm of his other hand.  He wore a wife beater and what appeared to be a pair of boxer shorts.  I tried not to look too closely.  I was actually a little bit afraid of him.  But, I had to deliver the packages.

I approached.  "Afternoon," I said.

He grunted.

"Should I leave these with you?" I asked.  "Or would you prefer if I knocked on the door?"

The door opened.  I guess Mrs. Klausner had heard my truck pull up.  She looked at the man.  "Come inside, Mikey, my dear," she said.  “You have some puzzles to do for me.”  I gather that was supposed to be her "come hither" voice, but it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up -- and not in a good way.  I swear, I've never been gladder that my name's not Mikey.  I handed her the boxes and walked down the sidewalk to my truck as fast as I could.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

I was off yesterday -- had to do my annual physical, and the cats had a vet appointment.  My friend Dona subbed on my route.  She stopped me on the way out to my truck.

"You ever deliver to 6--- F--------- Drive in M-----?" she asked me.

"Yeah, all the time," I said.

"Don't you think it's strange?"

"What's strange?" I asked.  There were a lot of strange things about that house.  I didn't know which one she meant.

"That woman -- the shifty-eyed one with the stringy red hair.  Answered the door wearing a pink bathrobe and holding a hot dog in one hand."

I shrugged.  "Maybe she was just having a snack?"

"You should've seen that hot dog," Dona said.  "I never saw so much relish on a food item in all my life.  I don't even know how a person could eat that -- it would make you sick!  In fact, I don’t even know if there WAS a hot dog.  It might’ve been a bun full of relish.”

"Well," I said, "some strange things are going on at that house.  I try to get in and get out as fast as I can.  Anyway, thanks for covering my route yesterday."

"Any time," she said.

Friday, October 29, 2004

All right, this was getting ridiculous.  I had 23 boxes to deliver to the Klausner house today -- 23!  All books.

I pulled up to 6--- F--------- Drive.  Today, TWO people were standing outside the house.  One of them was Eric.  I hadn't seen him since that first time.  The other bore a striking resemblance to Eric only older, balding, and wearing glasses.  Eric's father, perhaps?  But then who the heck had Mikey been?  Well, I guess that was none of my business.  At least this guy wasn't menacing me with a crowbar.

I climbed into the back of the truck and started sorting boxes.  This would take a couple of trips.  I heard someone clear his throat.  I looked out and found the older gentleman.

"Hello," he said.

"Hello," I said.

"Need any help?" he asked.

I considered this.  It wasn't company procedure, but there were a LOT of boxes.  "Sure," I said.

He held out a hand.  "Stanley Klausner," he said.  He sounded friendly enough.  Had an accent I couldn't quite place -- somewhere in the Northeast.  New York, maybe?  I don't get up that way too often.

I shook his hand.  "Buck," I said.  I was reticent about giving out my full name.  Couldn't say why.  And then I looked into his eyes -- what cold, dead eyes they were.  The eyes of a man resigned to some horrible fate.  Well, if he lived at THAT house, I could sympathize.

I noticed that Eric had sidled up behind Stanley.  I gave Stanley a stack of boxes, and I gave Eric a stack of boxes, and I took the third stack.  Eric disappeared inside, returned empty-handed, and took the boxes I was carrying.  I heard Harriet yelling something from inside.  Stanley sighed, gave me a look that said "Help!"  The door closed.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

I was out running errands this morning and decided to stop by the used book store.  A couple of friends from high school run the place.  They've asked that I not use their real names, so I'll call them by their online handles -- Embee and Beachmama.  I can't quite bring myself to pay full price for hardcovers, but I wanted to see if they had the latest Lee Child novel in stock.

I was just about plowed down as I crossed the parking lot.  I got a look at the offending vehicle -- an early 1980s K Car Woody.  A station wagon, at that.  I’m surprised that thing is still running.  I guess they were reliable enough -- just ugly as all get out.  Ah well, I hadn’t actually been hit, so I went on into the store.

I couldn’t see Embee or Beachmama over the stack of books on the counter.

“Hey, Buck,” Embee said.

“What’s all this?” I asked.

“The Klausners just dropped off a TON of books --“ Beachmama said.

“The Klausners?” I asked.

“Do you know them?” Embee asked.

“I’ve delivered hundreds of packages to their house in the past couple of years.  All books, I think.”

“Well, we do a nice piece of business re-selling the books they bring here,” Beachmama said.  “Hardcovers.  Like new -- never been read.  Sometimes with publicity material still folded up inside.”

“How much do you pay them?” I asked.

“Couple of bucks a book.”

What kind of racket were the Klausners running?  Ah well, maybe I was better off not knowing.  “Well, I just came in looking for the new Lee Child,” I said.

“I think we’ve got a couple copies,” Embee said.  “Check the fiction hardcover shelf?  I’d help but I’ve got all these books to sort.”

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Years went by.  I kept delivering packages to the Klausner house.  Never saw Mikey again -- thankfully -- but Eric and Stanley showed up to help unload packages now and again.

Anyhow, my wife was feeling a little under the weather today.  Something going around, I guess.  I told her I’d do the grocery shopping for the week.  Thought it might give her a little peace and quiet.  The kids and I hopped into the car and headed to the Publix.  I thought I was having a flashback when an early1980s K Car Woody station wagon cut us off as we were about to turn into the parking lot.

I followed the Woody.  Couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Harriet Klausner, herself, get out of the car.  Thankfully she’d changed out of the housedress.  She almost looked normal in a black velour sweatshirt.  Her hair had a lot more gray now and it was pulled back instead of hanging loose.

She went into the store.  The kids and I followed her.  She didn’t notice or recognize me -- actually, I’m kind of glad.  Something was not quite right about her.  I kept thinking she’d start leaking white goo like that dude in the first Alien movie.  And then I had an idea.

“See that woman?” I said to the kids.

“The bad driver?” my son asked.

“Yeah, her.  I deliver packages to her house.  She’s a little weird.  I want to see what she’s buying.”

“Okay,” the kids said.

“Stay back; don’t let her know you’re watching.”

“Got it, Dad.”

“I’m going to pick up the groceries Mom wanted.”

I let the kids go after her.  I felt like McNulty from The Wire, when he had his sons follow Stringer Bell.  I don’t know why I was so curious about this.  Ah well.  I pulled my wife’s list out of my pocket and started down the first aisle.

About fifteen minutes later, the kids caught up to me.

“It’s really weird, Dad,” my son said.  “Her cart was full.  But she only bought bananas, asparagus, and sausages.”

Saturday, September 28, 2012

Today I promised my wife I’d run a couple of errands.  First stop -- the post office.  I always felt a little odd going in there.  They were “the competition,” after all.  But, we had a couple of birthday cards to mail and even I’ll admit that UPS is not a practical means for sending birthday cards.  And we were out of stamps.

Oh, no -- Klausner’s Woody was in the parking lot.  I mean, no one else would be driving one of those things, right?

I tried to use the machine to buy stamps but it was out of commission, so I got in line.  I groaned when I realized they only had two clerks working, and one of the people currently at the counter seemed to have about thirty packages to mail.  I’d be here all morning.

Five minutes or so passed.  To the clerks’ credit, the line did move, although the person with all the packages stayed put.  There were A LOT of packages.

I got a little closer.  And that’s when I realized -- the person with all the packages was Harriet Klausner.  What the heck?  I was a little hurt.  I mean, over a decade of package deliveries from UPS and here she goes and sends things via the US Postal Service?  But then I realized I would be the one doing the pickup if she was sending all that stuff from her house.  Better for me, anyway, if she comes here.  I don’t want to have any more contact with her than I have to.

Finally, it was my turn at the counter.  Klausner had just left.  I could FEEL the clerk’s relief.  She must’ve seen my gaze following Klausner out the door.

“She comes in every weekend, you know.  Sends out boxes and boxes of media mail.”

I guess she was mailing books, then.  I suppose she’d moved on from the used bookstore.  Maybe she could get better money for them online.

“Weird,” I said.  “Well, I just need a roll of Forever stamps.”

We completed the transaction.  The clerk handed me a receipt.  “Have a nice day,” she said.

“You too,” I said.

I wandered back outside.  Stuffed the stamps in my pocket, took a brief look at the receipt.  “Your cashier was SARA,” it read.  Well, it wasn’t like I was going to return stamps.  I tossed the receipt in my car’s cup holder, did a check for the Woody before I took off.  I had no desire to be involved in a motor vehicle accident with Harriet Klausner.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another Friday, another end-of-day delivery to the Klausner residence.  Just one box, this time.

I knocked on the front door.  Harriet answered.  I held out the box.

“That’s it?” she asked.

“Just the one,” I said.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“I’m positive.”

“Could you check one more time?”

“This was the last stop on my route.  That was the only box left in my truck.”

“Huh.”  She closed the door in my face without another word.

Ah, well.  I learned long ago not to read too much into anything Harriet Klausner said or did.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I had two boxes to deliver to the Klausner house this afternoon.  When I approached the house this time, I noticed one of the front windows was open.  That was unusual, but maybe they’d just decided to air the place out.  It was the time of year in Georgia when neither the air conditioner nor the furnace will do.

I knocked on the front door but no one answered.  I set the boxes down and was just about to leave when I heard someone talking inside.  I recognized Klausner’s voice.

“Where was this week’s shipment of ARCs?” she asked.

I didn’t hear the response.  I guess she was on the telephone.

“I am Amazon’s #1 Hall of Fame reviewer.  I NEED my ARCs.”

Amazon’s #1 Hall of Fame reviewer?  I hadn’t realized.  But she couldn’t actually be READING all those books I was delivering, could she?  I mean, there had been thousands over the years.

After dinner that evening, I got online for a minute.  I searched for Klausner on Amazon and found out she had posted more than 28,000 reviews.  Of books.  That’s a rate of one book a day for 74 years.  Unbelievable.

I started clicking on some of her reviews.

From her review of Power Play by Patrick Robinson: “On the other hand pontificate interpretation of real events (for instance, the alleged British equivalent of the 47%) detracts from an otherwise entertaining thriller.”  She gave the book four stars, though.

I tried another.

From her review of Choices by Galia Ryan: “After years of exorbitant spending on luxurious fashion that she rarely if ever uses, Anna faces personal bankruptcy; which is a horrible scenario for anyone, but exponentially worse for a banker.”  It’s been a long time since I took English class, but I am pretty sure that’s not how to use a semicolon.

I noticed this review had a lot of comments, so I clicked.  What were people saying about Harriet Klausner?  That she cuts and pastes her reviews from the book jacket?  That she re-sells books she receives for free from publishers?  That she doesn’t read the books she reviews?  That she’s only in it for the money?

Two hours later, I was still absorbed in reading Klausner reviews on Amazon.com.  This was fascinating.  To think I’d been enabling her all these years!  I had to agree with the commenters, though -- there was no way she was reading these books.  Every “review” I clicked on was plot summary that could’ve been copied from the book jacket.  Sometimes the comments pointed out that Harriet had gotten details wrong, had given away spoilers, had even missed that a character in a book had been named after her.

It was getting late, though, so I shut down the computer and went to bed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deliveries to the Klausner residence were dwindling.  I didn’t even have to stop there every day, now.  Today there was a package, though.

The front window was open again.  That was weird -- it was cold outside.  I knocked.  No answer.  I set the package down and was about to walk away when I heard voices.  Two, this time.  One was Harriet, but I couldn’t place the second.  It was a man’s voice, but not Stanley’s or Eric’s.

“My supply of ARCs is drying up.  Why is my supply of ARCs drying up?” Harriet asked.

“Well, you know I don’t have any control over that,” the man said.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist.  I looked in the window.  Harriet sat there in front of a computer with her back to me.  She was Skyping with someone who looked a little familiar -- mostly bald, a white guy, maybe a few years younger than I am.

“Someone is looking in your window, Harriet,” he said.

I dropped to the ground -- fast.  Serves me right for peeking, I guess.  I crawled back to the front door, walked back to my truck, pretended nothing was out of the ordinary.  Thankfully, there were no witnesses.

When I got home, I saw a story on the evening news about Amazon sales during the holiday season.  I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention, but I happened to look at the screen for a split second.  The guy in the footage playing the background looked familiar.  Where had I seen him before?

And then it hit me.  I went to the computer, looked up Amazon on Wikipedia.  Scrolled down a bit -- and there he was -- J--- B----, the founder of Amazon.  The same guy from the news story, the same guy Klausner was Skyping with this afternoon.  So she was in contact with the man at the top.  That explained a few things.  Like how someone with such poor English skills could become Amazon’s #1 Hall of Fame Reviewer.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I had been checking Harriet Klausner’s “reviews” on Amazon almost daily.  They -- and the comments on them -- were always good for a laugh.  Today I learned that Harriet had been featured in an article in the New York Times.  I just had to check it out.

I laughed out loud when I saw the picture.  That was ten or twelve years old if it was a day.  I remember when she really DID look like that.  I see they roped Stanley into giving a few quotes.  Hadn’t seen or heard from him in awhile.  Truth be told, I had always felt sorry for the guy.  It had been pretty obvious from the start that Harriet was in charge in that house.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I was only visiting the Klausner house once or twice a week now.  Can’t say that was a problem for me.

Once again, I went up to the door.  Only one box today, and a small one, at that.  I knocked.  This time, Klausner answered.  She was wearing a pink bathrobe.  The belt on it was starting to come untied.  I prayed that it would hold until she shut the door.  I handed her the box.

“That’s it?” she asked.

I nodded.  “That’s it.”

“That can’t be it.”

“You can check the truck if you want.”

Apparently this offended her.  She grabbed the box and slammed the door in my face.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I hadn’t been to the Klausner house in two weeks.  I was a little surprised to find I had a box for them today.  It was pretty small, probably only one book.  Maybe two, if they were paperbacks.  Well, I’d kept up my visits to Amazon and Harriet’s review frequency had dropped.  She was barely posting one or two a week now.  Funny thing was, the grammar and punctuation were no better.  Even though she was now posting reviews at a rate consistent with actually reading the books, I still don’t think she WAS reading them.

Anyway, things were a mess at the Klausner house today.  It had rained and the ground was wet.  The Woody was parked in the yard; you could still see the tire tracks in the mud.  The front door was wide open.  I didn’t know what to do.  Couldn’t really knock, so I knelt and set the package just inside the door.  I heard a strange noise.  Something told me to get out of there.  I started walking back down the sidewalk.  I heard the noise again -- creaking, like the house was settling, only louder.  I sprinted the last ten feet or so to my truck.

I dived into the driver’s seat.  I would never have believed what happened next, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  I experienced a wave of energy -- both heat and sound.  The truck actually shook.  And then, the Klausner house -- it imploded.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  It collapsed into itself, like a black hole had opened in the ground.  I closed my eyes and shielded my face.  When the sound died down, I looked up.  The house was gone.  Just -- gone.  The Woody was gone, too.  All that was left were a scorch mark at the end of the sidewalk and a couple of papers fluttering in the breeze.

One of the papers landed on the windshield of my truck, got caught on the wiper blade.  Though I was reluctant to touch it, I reached out and pulled it off.  It was a page from a book.  I folded it up and stuck it in my wallet.

I didn’t know WHAT to do.  I wasn’t about to call the cops.  What would I say?  I decided the best course of action was to hightail it out of there, so that’s exactly what I did.

Friday, December 20, 2013

I hadn’t had any deliveries to F--------- Drive in M----- since that fateful day in July.  So imagine my surprise when I looked at the last package in my truck.  It was addressed to L. Donner in the 6--- block of F--------- Drive.  Why, that was right next door to the former location of the Klausner house.  I really did not want to go back there.  But my kids will be old enough for college soon, and I didn’t want to lose my job, either.

I turned onto F--------- Drive.  It was so weird to be here after months away.  Little had changed.  I saw the house before Klausner’s.  I saw the house after Klausner’s.  I did a double-take.  Of course Klausner’s house was gone, but it’s like it had never been there.  There was no empty lot.  The houses that had formerly been on either side of hers were now next-door neighbors.  Was I losing it?

I was shaken.  I stopped the truck, got the package from the back.  I rang the doorbell.  A perfectly normal-looking woman answered the door.

“Oh, perfect,” she said.  “This was supposed to be a Christmas present for my husband.  It came just in time.”

“I just need a signature here,” I said.  I held the scanner out for her and she signed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I had been staring in the general direction of where the Klausner house ought to have been.

I shook my head.  “I used to deliver packages to this street a lot.  To number 6---.  What happened?”

She furrowed her brow.  “I’ve lived on this street for years.  There was never a number 6---.”

“Are you sure?  I came here nearly every day.  Harriet Klausner got a lot of packages.”

“I’ve never heard of Harriet Klausner,” she said.  She squinted at me.  “Are you all right?” she asked.

I didn’t want to sound like a crazy person.  “Bad memory, I guess.”  I took the scanner back from her.  I tilted my head.  “Good afternoon,” I said.

She nodded.  She backed away from me and closed the door.

I went back home and logged on to Amazon.  I went back to look for some of my favorite “reviews.”  I couldn’t find ANY of Klausner’s reviews.  What the heck was going on?  My wife asked me what was wrong but I didn’t want to admit I was having doubts about my sanity so I just said I thought I was coming down with something.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I was so weirded out after my last trip down F--------- Drive in M----- that I asked for a transfer.  They offered me a desk job in Minnesota.  I took it -- even though it meant moving north in the middle of winter.  I’m told the hunting here is pretty good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I adapted to my new life.  I bought a little farm.  I plow my own driveway now, and I can see deer out the back window anytime I want.  I like the new job, too.

I try not to think about Harriet Klausner.  But every now and then, when I get down to the last bit of cash in my wallet, I find that folded up book page from the day I delivered the last package to the Klausner house.

3 comments:

buck210 said...

I love it! Great work Sneaky!

Embee said...

Sneaky,

I loved it! You are brilliant!

Well done.

Chick Pilot said...

You rock, Ms. Burrito!! Awsome story and great writing. Please, please get published. I want to read your book! Always thought something was a little off w/ that vacant lot next door....