When Wyatt Posey showed up at work, the woman who spent all day behind the main sales desk – i.e., the receptionist – was wearing clear plastic gloves. Wyatt didn’t say anything, but he couldn’t help staring.
“I don’t want to get Ebola,” Grace Northers said.
“Has Ebola been seen?” Wyatt asked.
“Well, no, but you can’t be too careful. Here. Put these gloves on, Wyatt. I brought some extras.”
“I’ll pass,” he said. “Life is fatal, Grace. You reckon you could get me a cup of coffee?”
“If you don’t mind, Wyatt, I’d appreciate it if you’d make it yourself. You can’t be too careful.”
“Fine,” he said. He poured himself a cup, opened a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low, stirred it, and walked over to his cubicle, where blinding sunlight streamed through the plate-glass window, and fired up the laptop. He picked up the local weekly paper and perused page one. The city was adjusting the way it determined electricity rates. The city manager said it wasn’t an increase, and many other cities were figuring it the same way, blah, blah, blah. It was a good time to announce this. On most Thursday mornings, everyone would be talking about electricity rates and how they heard – what they said – was that the power bills were going through the roof, but, on this day, with two cases of Ebola about eight hundred miles away, no one was going to worry about the power bill unless it could possibly spread the virus, and he was expecting Grace to speculate on that possibility at any time.
Wyatt took a good-sized sip of coffee and opened Internet Explorer. He googled “Ebola deaths” and found out that 4,500, almost all on the western side of Africa, had died. Then he googled “war deaths” and discovered that, as of the most recent article, more than 6,700 Americans had died in Middle East wars. That figure was less than half as many as had died in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, and over 58,000 had perished in Vietnam, and over 400,000 in World War II, and 625,000 or so in the Civil War.
For the love of God, though, everybody wear plastic gloves in case those two Ebola cases in Dallas escaped on some plane that lands at Greenville-Spartanburg and went driving down to Elmwood to buy a new Buick.
Wyatt noticed that Ebola Hazmat suits were now available for Halloween trick-or-treaters. He wondered if they came in adult sizes. If so, Grace Northers would probably be wearing one by the end of next week, especially if, by then, the virus had spread to eight or ten more people nationwide.
While everyone was taking their seats for the morning sales meeting, Wyatt, who had a reputation as “a character,” said he heard Buick was about to come out with a new model known as the Ebola. That’s because no one could resist it.
Okay, it wasn’t a great joke. But someone could have laughed. A smile, maybe?
Wyatt was the best salesman Moustakas Motors had. The dealership had once sold Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs, too, but Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs were gone. Now they were down to Buicks and GMC trucks. The secret to Posey’s success had been the African American market, mainly because Wyatt allowed as how he supported President Obama, and while it was true, he did, the reason that it was a sales advantage was that, as many customers had told him, they couldn’t believe a white man in Elmwood would say nice things about the forty-fourth President of the United States. Benny Moustakas, the third-generation Lebanese owner, whose grandfather had founded the family’s first car dealership during the Korean War, certainly didn’t mind his firm’s popularity in the black community. Not even the one black salesman, Nat Morse, could outsell Wyatt Posey. They were ranked one and two on the sales charts most months. The Buicks weren’t popular among the young, black or white, but between the two of them, Wyatt and Nat had every black preacher, undertaker and convenience-store owner in a five-county radius tooling around in Moustakas Buicks. The three other salesmen – no women – specialized in putting white families in SUVs and a few kids in pickups. The most common cliché in the building was either Johnny Bumgarner, or Marley Atkins, or Lew McInvaille, looking at the latest figures, and saying, “It’d be me on top if they subtracted all the repos from Wyatt and Nat’s totals.”
It was a lie, of course. God forbid that a black man would actually pay for something he bought.
Wyatt could live with their jealousy. He had Benny on his side. He made Benny money. Benny wouldn’t have expressed a political opinion with a gun pressed against his considerable nose. Benny was in favor of all politicians. He agreed with all of them. He knew Wyatt was a real salesman and that he only mentioned politics when it came in handy. It was true of the rest, too. What Wyatt had was the gimmick. When he let on as how he was a Democrat – a liberal, even! – it came across as such a pleasant surprise to others of that persuasion. He also did a good business with the college professors. He was the dealership’s only salesman who appealed to customers intellectually, which was to say that, once in a blue moon, Wyatt actually read a book.
Plus, Wyatt was a team player. Out on the lot, he could smell a Tea Partier a mile away, and he always promptly introduced him, or her, to Atkins, who could quote Ron Paul or Ayn Rand on demand. “Rand on Demand” had a nice ring to it. Lots of Tea Partiers didn’t know what they believed, but Libertarians sure sounded good to them. They’d been known to buy a pickup or two from a man like Marley who was intent on “defending the Constitution.”
The other three thought Wyatt was crazy, anyway. They just thought Morse was eccentric.
You know, he’s black. He’s supposed to be for Obama.
Wyatt, though, he looked normal. He looked like a redneck. How in the world could he support that secretly socialist, secretly Muslim, secretly Kenyan president whose real birth certificate was in Arabic, or Swahili, or some other language they knew nothing about?
He must be on drugs. That’s all there was to it. For a while back in 2012, Wyatt had actually worn an Obama button. At a sales meeting, one just about like this one, Johnny, Marley and Lew had all ambushed him, made him stop wearing his button because they thought it was running the white folks off. It pissed him off, but he understood. He just stopped referring redneck customers to them for a few months, sold a few cars and trucks, even heard himself say phrases like “that goddamned Obama” a few times. He’d gotten his message across. The others didn’t fuck with him much anymore, but Wyatt didn’t entirely think the deal was square.
The meeting was pretty much the same as every other day. They were doing fine. The crisis in the automobile industry had passed. Wyatt often thought that it’d be nice if the marque’s reputation was a little more glamorous. People liked Buicks. They didn’t love them. They were reliable, not hip. Wyatt liked it when he had a Mustang or a Camaro to sell from the used-car lot. He didn’t make as much money, but he enjoyed the process. He connected with young people as much as he did with African Americans. Imagine a young African American!
After the meeting, he walked out on the lot, but Nat had the only customer covered. It was nine o’clock. Wyatt just wandered around to the service department. He said hello to the manager, but he liked to check in with Buddy Winslow, a young mechanic who was nuts, not in a sociopathic killer kind of way but more in a TV-sitcom-character sense. He had a little Cliff Clavin in him, even though he was probably too young to have watched much of Cheers.
Buddy Winslow amused Wyatt.
“Hey, Buddy …”
“Yo, Wyatt, what’s going down?”
“You scared of catching Ebola?”
“Hell, no, man. I’m worried about the damn drones been flying around my trailer.”
“You not growing weed, are you, Buddy?”
“Shit, no, but that could be it, man. When I hear ‘em hovering around, I go out on the back porch and get my binoculars out. Them things could be, like, setting folks up.”
“Well, you know, they’re little hoverin’ fuckers, man. They got metal arms and shit. They could be, like, planting it, and then, they come back, and it’s growing, and, next thing you know, the cops is out busting your ass.”
“One more time, Buddy. You growing weed?”
“No, no. I got some, though.”
“I bet you do,” Wyatt said, and he walked away. “Let me get back on the lot.”
“Hey! I can get you some.”
Wyatt just waved his hand, back turned, walking away, starting to whistle.
It wasn’t a bad life.
He leaned against the driver’s side of a crimson LaCrosse and watched Nat shake hands with his customer. He hadn’t had time to make a sale. He walked over and joined Wyatt.
“Hell, no. Just wasting time. Being courteous. He was feeding me a line of bullshit before we even shook hands,” Nat said.
“We just got a sweet Dodge Challenger on the lot.”
“Johnny traded it out of a recent EC grad who’s already married, got a kid. Bought an Enclave. The silver one. The Challenger’s orange. Clemson fan. Loaded. Satellite radio. Premium stereo. Kids ought to be all over it. Johnny’s in with the Tiger fans, but he couldn’t sell a kid a lollipop. If he sells it, it’ll be to a rich daddy, not the kid himself.”
“I’ll get on the phone,” Nat said. “I might have a lead or two.”
“Goddamn, I’m glad the weather’s cooled off,” Wyatt said, glancing at his watch. “I fucking hate being in the showroom right now. I’m afraid Grace is going to call EMS if I sneeze. D’you know thirty thousand people died of flu last winter, and Grace is wearing rubber gloves ‘cause three people in America got Ebola?”
“She’s crazy as hell.”
“It’s kind of fun, though,” Wyatt said. “I just can’t take it in large doses.
“Hey, Nat, speaking of fun, you want to have some?”
“What you got in mind?”
“Do you think you could, like, impersonate a redneck? I don’t mean act like one. I mean, you adopt his opinions, in a way that’s believable, or at least believable to a dumbass.”
Nat started laughing. “I seen you back in the service department. You ain’t been smoking any of what Buddy’s got?”
“No. It’s funny you mentioned that, though. That’s exactly what he said when I was walking out the door. ‘I can get you some,’ he said.”
“That boy seriously ain’t right.”
“Ah, he’s harmless. He gets his work done. If he comes to work stoned, well, at least he ain’t serviced nobody’s car and forgot to put oil in it. You ever give Buddy a ride home or picked him up in the morning?”
“No,” Nat said. “Never had the pleasure.”
“There’s this kid up the road. You can’t see Buddy’s trailer from the highway, but his plot borders a pretty nice house. The kid in that house is into remote-control planes and helicopters and shit. I’ve seen him flying ‘em. Buddy thinks they’re drones, hovering around and spying on him. That kid might be fucking with him. It’s right funny.”
“What’s that got to do with me impersonating a redneck, Wyatt?”
“Oh, nothing. I got off track thinking about Buddy. Here’s what my idea is. Next time we’re sitting around the lot, and there’s a no-doubter that walks in …
“What’s a no-doubter?”
“Why, Nat, you ought to know that. A one-hundred-percent, true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, right-wing nutcase. The kind our colleagues make a living off of.”
Nat smiled. “Okay, I got you.”
“I owe Lew McInvaille one,” Wyatt said. “He never passes up an opportunity to tell a customer, ‘Be sure you come see me. See that guy over there. His name’s Wyatt Posey. Don’t tell him I told you this, but he voted for Obama. Twice.’”
“No? For real?”
“Anyway, I can play the redneck as good as he does it honest. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll go talk to the guy, feel him out on his politics, and if my stereotype proves accurate, I’m gonna introduce you to him, and I’ll tell him your first cousin is Jim Crow.”
“I’ll tell him your first cousin is Tim Scott. Then we can have a conversation, and that’s when you can play against type, as they say in the movies.”
Tim Scott was the black Republican who had been appointed to the United States Senate by Governor Nikki Haley. He was now about to be elected to his own term.
“We’re gonna find the right guy, and then we’re gonna make a sale, and we’re gonna do it right under Lew McInvaille’s dishonest, two-timing nose. We’ll just play it by ear and see how it goes. Maybe I’ll make the sale. Maybe you will. It’d be better if you do. I should warn you. These little experiments of mine don’t always turn out well.”
“Well, about fifteen years ago, I sold a Pontiac Grand Am, metallic aqua and ugly as hell, to a woman so good-looking I had to lean forward and hide a hard-on, which I don’t think I managed to do very well, because I went with her on a test drive, we stopped off at her apartment, and I screwed her brains out.”
“How’d that go wrong?”
“I got two weeks to come up with next month’s alimony, that’s how.”
It took a day for the perfect candidate to happen along. Heavy-set man, red face, red hair, driving a worn-out Explorer with a bumper sticker in the back window that had the Obama campaign symbol, the red, white, and blue sunrise, as the “O” in “DOUCHEBAG.” Wyatt sent a text message to Grace Northers, asking her to page Nat Morse to the new-car lot, and hustled over. He surprised Johnny Bumgarner with his speed. Johnny expected him to dawdle because the fellow in the Explorer wasn’t Wyatt’s “type.”
“How you getting along? I’m Wyatt Posey. Can I he’p you?”
“I’m looking to trade in this here Ford for a new’un. I mean, I might try a Buick.”
“And your name is?”
“Burford. Buford Burford.”
Wyatt had to work hard not to crack up. Surely he wasn’t being set up, right? Nat would never do that to him, and the other three were too stupid.
“It’s nice to meet you, Buford. You looking for something similar in an SUV?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I ain’t been pleased with this Ford.”
It sure does look like you’ve driven the hell out of it, Wyatt thought.
“Well, I’m glad to see you, and I sure hope I can help you out,” Wyatt said. “Just between you and me, we ain’t had nothing but black folks on the lot all day, and it’s good to see a white man to do business with.”
He could see Nat approaching out of the corner of his eye.
“Not that all black folks is sorry,” he said. “I want to introduce you to the best black man I know. Nat, get on over here. I want you to meet Mister … Burford.”
The man looked around and immediately seemed alarmed. “Now I don’t know …”
“Aw, don’t mind Nat,” Wyatt said. “He’s a good old boy.” He lowered his voice. “You support Tim Scott, don’t you?”
“Yeah. He’s a good one.”
“Nat here is Senator Tim Scott’s first cousin. Senator Scott’s wife was a Morse, I think, from somewhere over near Great Falls.” Wyatt was making all this up. He didn’t have Buford Burford pegged for a man likely to google.
“I’s just telling Buford here about you, Nat. You talked to your Uncle Tim lately?”
“Just last night,” Nat said. “He says he gets more support from white folks than he does from your shiftless blacks. Says he’s pretty much got the election locked up.”
Nat turned to Burford and looked him straight in the face. “You know what Uncle Tim always says? He says you got your black folks, your African Americans, and then you got your niggers.”
“Well,” Buford Burford said, smiling, “I think we might be able to do some bidness.”
“I tell you what. I got a client coming in at two-thirty,” Wyatt said, “and I need to get the paperwork ready. I’m gonna just leave you two together.”
The other three salesmen weren’t studying about selling cars. They were all in the showroom, around McInvaille’s desk, staring out the window at Nat Morse selling a vehicle to a white man. The looks on their faces suggested rules were being violated.
Wyatt breezed by. “What’s up, guys? Selling any cars?”
“Hey, Wyatt, old buddy, how’d old Nat hook up with that feller?” Johnny asked.
“I don’t know. They hit it right off.”
Nat made the sale. He and Buford Burford drove off to the test drive, and Nat came back to Benny Moustakas’ office with a cardboard box full of money, which Burford had brought in large, translucent plastic jars once filled with Duke’s Mayonnaise. Benny had to approve a plan so that Burford could pay in several installments. Benny had all the cash, more than thirty thousand dollars of it, but the buyer insisted that the lump payment not be deposited in amounts that would draw the scrutiny of “federal gummint regulators.”
“He’s my buddy,” Nat said. “He already knows I’m the best nigger ever he run across. Want to see my bonus?”
Nat and Wyatt walked out to the parking lot. Behind the seat of Nat’s “program car,” a Regal, sat a plastic milk jug that might have been full of water but wasn’t. It was moonshine.
“Best liquor known to man,” Nat said. “He said I’s welcome to call him Uncle Buford from now on. By the way, he lives up in the mountains, up around Landrum, shy of the state line.”
“I bet ain’t all he grows is corn,” Wyatt said. “We ought to get that fellow hooked up with Buddy.”
“Want a swallow of corn liquor, Wyatt?”
“I expect you better save that for a special occasion, Nat, one where you ain’t needing to go nowhere for a while. When the time’s right, I might take a snort. What’d Benny say?”
“It ‘bout killed him,” Nat said. “No sooner had Buford Burford pulled out of the lot, leaving Benny with that big stack of money on his desk, he called in Hobie Smith to make it work, and then, Benny had one of his attacks, and he got Buddy to drive him to the emergency room, but the docs said they wouldn’t nothing major wrong with him but it would be advisable for him to give up cigars, and he says he feels fine now, all except he’ll never understand how in hell I made that sale. How’d you miss all that?”
“Ah, I got tired of all the others, Lew, Johnny, Marley, snooping around, so I went on a test drive with the head of the sociology department at EC. I could’ve let him take the car off on his own, but I just wanted to get away.
“I did wonder what was going on, though,” Wyatt said. “When I got back, Grace told me she was ninety percent certain Benny had come down with the Ebola virus.”
At some point, I hope to publish a collection of these short stories. Until then, I hope you’ll consider buying my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, published by Neverland Publishing of Miami, Florida, and available in both softcover and Kindle versions, at http://www.amazon.com.