This is the first chapter of a collection of short stories by the I.O.W.A. writers group. It’s a reaction to the group being bombarded for nine hours by the most obnoxious singing pop machine we’ve ever heard. Apologies to the Booth family for using them as central characters. – MLW
By M.L. Williams
CHAPTER 1 — “The Fixer”
“Koog” and I were minding our own business. We sat at our assigned table and greeted passersby hoping to attract some business for our merch.
We hadn’t been there long when that eerie melody started to scratch its way into our subconscious. At first it was barely noticeable — a discordant set of high-pitched notes strung together by some tone-deaf software engineer. He/she must have been pissed off at their job that day because no way and in no culture could you call that music.
I looked up and down hallways of the large mall trying to find the source. Maybe it was coming from one of the stores or probably a nearby kiosk. If that was case, I was more than willing to ask the perp to shut it off. If that didn’t work then a bribe or even a threat would be issued.
Koog looked me, frowning. “Doc, that noise is driving me nuts! I can’t take it any longer. If I find who’s playing that, I’m gonna …” His voice trailed, and he got that crazy, far-off look in his eyes. It looked like he was starting to twitch. Not a good sign.
“Easy Koog, you can’t take care of the situation,” I said trying to calm him. “You’ve only got one strike left on the three-strikes-you’re-out policy. You get caught and you’ll find yourself teaching freshman English for a week. Maybe two!”
My table partner shook his head and got up to find the source of that brain-numbing tune. “Don’t worry, Doc. I’m just going to talk them, I swear,” he told me as jumped out of his seat to go on hall patrol. He returned shortly and just shook his head, mission not accomplished.
Koog sat down with a plop then pointed at the ceiling. “It’s coming from up there!” he hissed. They are playing it over the intercom.
I shook my head, still looking around for the source. “Now who the hell would do that?” I muttered. It’s not even white noise.”
As if on cue, D.B. (also known as his Lordship) sauntered by. Seeing our looks of discomfort, he stopped. “Kind of irritating isn’t it?” he said, flashing his famous smirk.
“Do you know where that noise is coming from?” I asked D.B., who had volunteered to “supervise” our gang of literary pushers for the day. If anybody knew where to find the source it was D.B. He was connected. We didn’t ask.
“Yep, it’s the pop machine,” D.B. answered, pointing to the nearby offensive automated soda dispenser. It was one of those new machines, where icons of different flavors would appear when you touched it. The awful song stopped when a selection was made but only for 30 seconds or so. The military should have installed that thing at GTMO.
Koog whirled around. “The pop machine!” That, that sound is coming from the damn pop machine?” I swear his twitch was getting worse.
“Relax fellas, I got this,” I said. Koog looked relieved and rested his head on the table.
D.B. raised an eyebrow. “Do I want to know?”
I shook my head. “Nope, I got a fixer. You’re not the only one with connections.
D.B. nodded. “I’m outa here! The less I know, the better.” D.B. looked like a tough guy, but he actually was as affable as they come. He’d much rather tell a joke than use force.
Koog looked at me, his eye were starting to get bloodshot. “How long do we have to wait for this fixer?”
“Not long,” I said pulling out my cell phone to make a call.
A half hour later, a familiar figured eased up to our table and greeted me. “Hey old man, I hear you have a problem.”
“Nice to see you Red,” I nodded to the visitor. She was a nice-looking professional-looking woman. Her mid-length natural red hair was deepened to an even darker auburn. Little did anyone know she managed three of the most effective fixers in the business — Muscle, the Ginger Kid and Blondie.
“So, what’s the problem old man?” Just then D.B. strolled by and called out, “Hey Koog, Doc.”
Red cast me a curious glance. “Doc?”
I shrugged. “Case of mistaken identity I guess. I’m not going to correct him.”
She looked around at the other tables filled with members of the I.O.W.A. gang. “What are you guys hustling today?”
I smiled. “Books. People will stop to buy them if we scratch our names in them.”
Red looked amused then cast a quick glance at Koog, who was beguiling some customers with tales of his latest adventure. I shook my head. “No Koog is cool.” l then held up a finger. “Wait a second. Listen.”
She was about to protest that I was wasting her time, when she frowned, scanning the area. “Where is that awful noise coming from?”
I pointed to the offensive automated distributor of sugary drinks. “You found it Red. That’s your mark.”
Red, who was musically gifted and sensitive to any discord, just shook her head. “How long have you been listening to that?” She put her fingers to her ears and made the classic “Mr. Yuck” face.
“About four hours,” I said shrugging. “Wasn’t so bad at first but now … We’re getting desperate Red.”
She stared at me in disbelief. “This one’s on me, ah, Doc. We got this.”
“Who you pulling in for the job?” I asked. “I think that thing is too big for even Muscle to handle.”
Red nodded. “I’m thinking the Ginger Kid and Blondie.”
“Which gambit?” I whispered, not wanting to risk any more witnesses to the fix than necessary.
Red looked at the machine and smiled. “I’m thinking sticky fingers and Bubblicious should work. Any heat around?”
I cocked my head to the side as Blart, the mall cop, shuffled past. “Also there’s an older guy, tall in a brown suit, wears a badge on his coat pocket. We just call him the Ranger. Be careful Red there’s probably cameras watching everything. One more thing, Blondie can’t see me. She might blow up the whole thing. You know how she can be.”
Our eyes met in silent agreement then she turned to fetch her partners, who must have been lurking nearby.
Barely five minutes had passed when a young mother with two small children walked up to the singing soda demon. Red had quickly changed her look. She now wore an over-sized visor and sported a large pair of sun glasses. Both tykes also wore hats. But a tell-tale pony tail stuck out of one. Yes, it was Blondie.
The older of the two children, a ginger-haired All-American looking kid had an ice cream cone in one hand and change in the other. Sticky vanilla was dripping from both hands. He pounded on the machine, touched his pop of choice and inserted his money. The music mercifully stopped for a moment.
The machine groaned and a bottle of pop slowly rolled out of the dispenser. Now it was Blondie’s turn. The disguised Red admonished the little girl to keep her bubble gum in her mouth. Blondie shrugged pulled out a huge wad of pink goo out of her mouth with both hands then forcibly inserted her coins.
I held my breath as the machine’s screen lit up in a flash of green. The music tried to play on last note then mercifully stopped. The words “INCORRECT CHANGE” flashed on the screen.
The I.O.W.A. gang let out a collective sigh of relief. I think I heard a “Thank you Jesus.” Koog stopped twitching and flashed me a thumbs up.
The reverie was cut short by Blondie’s bloodcurdling scream. “I did NOT get my pop!” I should have left the scene but am a sucker to watch a fix.
In her tantrum, Blondie spun around to let out another protest then spotted me. “Grandpa, help!” she yelled. “I did NOT get my pop!” I forced a smile as Red gathered the two urchins and scampered toward the exit. Muscle must have been the get-away driver.
I buried my face in my hands and waited. Busted, but the music had stopped. I looked up and saw Koog bolt from the table as Ranger walked over and gestured to me. “Got a minute?”