by Pril Stevenson
One night, very late, very, very late in fact, I was awake watching TV. One of those wonderful Infomercials that tell you that you can make millions by sitting on your ass. Well, there I was, sitting on my ass, halfway paying attention. Well, how do you make millions sitting on your ass? I don't know, none of the infomercial made any sense. Anyway, I was in a sort of fugue- seeing the screen, hearing the words, and not absorbing any of it. Certain words would catch my attention, and my train of thought would shift.
It was quiet, it wasn't much past 4 am probably, but I was still hearing the phones. The damn phones. I always heard the phones. It comes from working at an answering service, I guess. But there, in the silence of a mid February predawn, I heard the phones. I tried to shut them out, but as usual, it was futile. I would hear the phones until the job ended, just like when I worked at a gas station, I would hear the service bell ring for months after I left the job.
In a half effort to forget the phones, I looked out the window. The moon was supposedly full, but it was cloudy out. The light that did arrive from the moon was diffuse. There were no hard shadows, as there are in the summer when the sky is clear and the moon is full. Instead of the silvery touch of a clear night, there was gray, gray and more gray. Frost had formed on parts of the window, and when I stood by it, my breath fogged the glass.
I inspected the parking lot between the buildings. I pondered going out on the porch and smoking a cigarette. The glass was staying fogged up for too long; it must be damn cold out, so forget the cigarette. All was right in the lot. Cars were where they were supposed to be, and the puddles were only a little full of water. A cat ran from the bushes near the driveway over to the Dumpster. My eyes landed on the silver and purple monstrosity known in the house as "The Leeeeeesure Van", and they narrowed. An evil thought or two flitted across the screen of my mind.
There it was, sitting sullenly in the muted moonlight. It's dingy chrome shining weakly through layers of rust, the spare tire looming blackly on the back doors. The windows, and their months of dirt, which had been smeared and wet by dew, were busily forming new runnels of road-muck down the side of the body. It was silent, for once.
The Leeeesure Van was a pin in my eye unlike any other. In the apartment, Donna and I called it "The beastly Family Moleeeesure Van". We never spoke of it without a sneer of contempt. It was hated.
It was often started up late at night, and driven somewhere, presumably the driver was making a delivery of the crystal that was so popular here. Another reason to hate it- it was associated with a speed freak/dealer.
It had a V8, dual pipes with no mufflers, a starter with bad teeth, a filthy carburetor, bad timing, and loose belts. It also had a driver with a lead foot. It was always started like this: The door would slam hollowly, then quiet for a few minutes. The accelerator cable would squeak a few times. Suddenly, it would roar to life, its RPM teetering dangerously on the red line as the driver stomped the pedal to keep it running. The RPM would drop, it would sputter and cough, then die. The process was repeated several more times, then off it would roar, down the driveway. The noise probably wouldn't have been so bad if the van wasn't parked between two buildings that created a canyon, Which made the noise echo off the walls and get louder.
My vision focused on it; I was looking it over, marveling at how much dirtier it had become, and wishing terrible wishes about it, when there was a flash from the rear, followed by a boom that shook the apartment. I peered at all the windows in the complex; no one else seemed to notice it.
A smile crept across my face. The Leeeeesure Van was catching fast, its windows breaking out, flames licking up the sides. Its evil tires were melting. It caught, and caught well. Through the holes that were once windows, I could see the upholstery flaming up… polyurethane melts, and it looks kind of cool when it does. The fire lit up the apartment complex. I saw a face in the window across the lot, it was sleepy looking. It appeared for a moment, and a look of shock crossed it, and it disappeared into the darkness of the room. I looked over it at the phone, thinking I should probably call the authorities. But a glance back at the flaming van made a grin cross my face again, and I went back to watching the fire. The phone was out of my reach anyway.
I was leaning out the open window, smoking a cig, when the fire department came, the sirens echoed painfully through the buildings, like every other noise. There were a few people standing outside in the lot, wrapped in blankets, in pajamas. They were all watching the van. The owner sat on a curb, a garden hose trained on the van, but the dribble of water did no good. It was too far-gone, and the look on the guy's face showed that he understood that. But there was another expression, under the "there goes my van" look.
Suddenly, I heard Donna's whiskey voice, slurred and incoherent from sleep, from behind me.
"What the hell is going on?" she asked, only slightly interested.
I giggled a little and nodded my head towards the lot. "It's the van. It's barbecued. Toast. Check it out".
Donna came over by the window, bummed a smoke off of me and lit it. Once she was situated, she looked out into the lot. Her eyes widened, "I'll be damned" she said, a trace of glee in her voice.
"Yeah, I was gonna come wake you guys up. I watched it blow up. I thought you might like to sleep, though. It exploded, man, I figured you guys would hear it and get up anyway, but I don't think it woke anyone up."
I went to the fridge and rooted around. . The firemen were just standing there; the van was pretty much just a smoking mass of metal with some flames here and there. There was a package of marshmallows in the fridge and I got them out, went back to the window.
I threw them at the owner. "Hey! This is the best thing your van has ever done! Eat up while it's still hot!" I yelled. Donna laughed. The firefighters gave us a dirty look and went back to talking with the police, who just arrived while I was digging in the fridge.
The owner of the Van shook his fist in rage at us. An officer walked over to him and spoke to him for a few minutes and nodded. The guy was looking panicky for some reason. Then, the officer beckoned his partner over, and the owner was handcuffed and put in the squadcar.
Donna and I stood at the window for a little while, amazed at our good fortune. Then we went to sleep. Me on the couch, her back to her room.
In the morning, we read the paper over Donnas kick-ass pancakes. In the police blotter was a blurb about the "incident", along with the finishing touch- the police and fire department had found the remnants of a portable meth lab.
Pril loves the smell of portable meth labs burning in the morning