That moment before you’re completely awake, when you’re still caught in the throes of a nightmare, struggling like a swimmer to surface, was the moment my fingers brushed the note.
“I took care of the body.”
Then I was wide awake, the note receding into the stuff of dreams, and I put it all behind me because I was running late for work. Was it a premonition? A residue of the murder mystery I’d been reading the night before? Pretty soon even those speculations receded, because at work I confronted a more immediate dilemma.
It was a dilemma named Gavin, a community service worker who needed to complete 80 hours of work with a nonprofit in order to avoid jail time for possession of an unlawful substance (in laymen’s terms, marijuana, which is still illegal in Georgia).
Ordinarily community service workers are lifesavers at the nonprofit thrift store I manage. Being a nonprofit, we’re chronically understaffed, so people assigned by the court to work for us provide a labor force we wouldn’t otherwise have. We only accept community service workers for crimes like possession of drugs and traffic violations; no ax murderers or wife beaters allowed. And they’re usually hard workers; likable people who made a little mistake.
But Gavin was different, because he was the son of the CEO of a company that had just donated $50,000 to the charity.
“Let him do what he wants. Treat him with kids gloves, because we don’t want to jeopardize the goodwill of such a big donor,” my boss said. All fine and good until you had to work with him.
Gavin sauntered toward me now, a smirk on his broad, bland face. He was a big guy; he could easily have heaved all the furniture off the back of the pickup truck that rumbled to a stop at our donation door. But he stood and watched me, a five foot four, 120-pound woman, help the donor unload boxes, chairs and a dining table. The smirk never left his face as he pulled up a chair, flopped down and propped his size 14 feet on a donated ottoman.
I complained to my boss. “He’s the laziest person I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t lift a finger to help while I’m out there unloading dining room tables.”
“His father has already threatened to stop donating if we don’t left him off easy. Just pretend he’s not here. He’ll soon finish his community service hours,” she said.
My blood pressure shot up along with my resentment, and I continued to unload trucks while Gavin watched and smirked.
Then one day he disappeared. I searched all over, because my boss says I’m responsible for keeping track of community service workers and their hours. The hours have to be logged and papers signed so that it’s all legitimate and official for lawyers and court dates.
When I found him I was even more furious than before. He had discovered the upstairs storage area and created a nest out of donated clothes and blankets. Sprawled in his soft nook, he snored the hours away while the rest of us (mostly women) slaved in the hot sun.
This became Gavin’s habit, disappearing as soon as he had logged in. We all knew where he was and I tried complaining one more time, only this time my boss threatened to fire me if I brought up the subject again.
But something happened that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands. My petite assistant manager, a woman who is even smaller than me, helped me unload a recliner, three boxes of pots and pans and, get this, a sofa! When we were done, she gingerly touched her back and moaned. “I think I wrenched something loose.”
“That’s it!” I said, not caring at that moment about $50,000 donors. “I’m going to take care of that big lazy slug.”
“What are you going to do?” Joyce’s blue eyes, already large, widened even more and she almost forgot about her back.
“You just watch,” I said, heading toward my office. This is where I keep my arsenal; stuff that is donated, but unlikely to sell. Things I might need at some future date for purposes as yet undefined.
Riffling through filing cabinets, drawers and boxes, I collected my weapons, amazed all over again at what some people will donate to a thrift store. Joyce couldn’t stifle a smile. “OMG, I can’t believe you saved all this stuff.”
“Now let’s hope the big oaf is as sound a sleeper as I think he is,” I said, bagging my treasures. “Follow me.”
We tiptoed upstairs, although there was really no reason to walk softly. Just as I figured, Gavin was a sound sleeper, untroubled by either conscience or responsibility. He continued to sleep while I went to work, emptying the contents of my bag, arranging, positioning, working swiftly and deftly to complete the task at hand while the big sprawled body snored on, oblivious.
Two hours passed before the first cry erupted, a gutteral, terrified sound that reverberated through the building and stopped us in our tracks. Joyce’s eyes grew wide and round as full moons, my boss rushed from her office and the three of us watched as Gavin tore down the steps, stumbling and thrashing in his haste and panic to escape.
“What on earth?” My boss muttered, baffled, as Gavin’s wide, broad backside disappeared.
I shrugged. “Guess he just went crazy.”
I thought for the first time in days of the note in my dreams, “I took care of the body.”
Maybe it had been a premonition, after all.
As a thrift store manager, you never know when you’ll need a mannequin’s dismembered leg, fake blood, large plastic cockroaches, a set of intact dentures, a skeleton mask and a rope. Thinking back, it’s amazing I got them arranged with such artistry on and around that sleeping body.
People donate the craziest things.