The Drop Box
Kate Folk

We found a gun in the after-hours drop box, wedged inside a man's snow boot.

Gary said it was a Glock 17.

Steve kept saying, "Wow," and shaking his head.

Laura said we should tell Sheila, our manager.

I said we should call the police. Fuck. I hated guns.

Gary said he would take care of it.

*    *    *

In June, the five of us had set up the new Salvation Army thrift store on the Coralville Strip. We uncollapsed cold metal clothing racks, ripped up carpet, painted until we were sick from fumes. Giant boxes arrived from headquarters in Des Moines, filled with stacks of clothes already on hangers: unstylish jeans, old lady pantsuits, an obscene proliferation of T-shirts.

Sheila was a wide woman who smoked Checkers cigarettes and always carried a gas station fountain drink, the largest size, a bucket whose handle clung to the side with plucky resolve. She stayed in her office up front and let Gary run the back room.

Gary was forty-six. His face sank in at the mouth, like he'd once been punched and it had stuck. He'd come from Nevada, and mentioned jobs in states between, like he was a particularly hardy tornado churning his way to the sea. He was living at the Hawkeye Motor Lodge a half mile down the highway. I gave him rides home, clutching the bank deposit sleeve between my bare thighs.

Steve was quiet, with rectangular glasses, limp blonde hair and pointy teeth. The day I met him, he had long red scratches up his forearms. He explained that he and his roommate had gotten into a fight with plastic butter knives.

"It happens," I said.

I'd met Laura in my Intro to Psych recitation. She got the job because of me; I ran into her at a party the night of my interview. It was just a summer job for us. We wanted nothing to do with guns in the drop box.

*    *    *

The day after we found the gun, Gary took me into the furniture shed and handed me three twenties.

"Your cut," he said.

I should have told him I didn't want his gun money, but we were only getting paid minimum wage, $5.50 an hour, and my parents were making me pay for my own textbooks. I stuffed the twenties in my smock and went back to pricing T-shirts.

Sometimes I priced a T-shirt at $29.99, just to see if anyone would notice.

After work that day, Laura and I went to happy hour at Sluggers, a sports bar where the servers dressed as referees. It was the first time we'd hung out, outside of studying for Psych. It was awkward. We ate chicken fingers and rehashed the Milgram experiment. I wondered if she'd accepted her share of the Glock money, but it seemed indecent to ask.

*    *    *

A few mornings later, Steve nudged me and pointed to a milk crate he'd just pulled out of the drop box. Inside was a swatch of green velvet, which I unwrapped to find three tiny handguns. I coo'ed involuntarily over their cuteness.

We went to the shed and Gary pulled down the garage door. It was pitch black, choked with heat and dust. Gary switched on his flashlight. He whistled.

".357 Magnums," Gary said. "Snub nosed little beauties."

"Let's not tell Laura," I said. I was annoyed because Laura got to sit up front at the register, filing her nails, while the rest of us toiled over other people's garbage.

"Just us three," Steve said.

"I'm on it," Gary said.

We made three hundred each on the .357's. I had almost enough for my fall textbooks.

The next week, I found a grenade in the pocket of a mink coat. I laid the coat in the middle of the parking lot, got in my car, and drove away.

Gary called while I was sitting at Kum & Go drinking a Sprite and peeling the skin off a hot dog.

"It's just a paintball grenade," he said. "Come back to work before Sheila sees you're gone."

"What's it doing in a woman's coat?" I said. My hot dog was a raw pink tube, forlorn next to the pile of its skin.

"You shouldn't of put the coat on the ground," Gary said. "It's a nice coat."

The grenade had been a test, and I had failed. The next morning, Gary asked if I'd switch positions with Laura, so she could work in the back.

"The register seems more your speed," Gary said. Laura's back was turned to me; she was already pricing T-shirts.

*    *    *

I wondered what horrible treasures they might be finding now. AK-47s? Bricks of heroin hidden inside sad carnival-prize stuffed animals? Antibiotic-resistant pathogens inadequately sealed in Saran Wrap?

Friday night, we had a party in Gary's motel room. I sat on the slippery bedspread drinking peach schnapps while Gary, Steve and Laura snorted crushed-up pills off the lid of the toilet.

When they came out of the bathroom, I said, "Guys, can we forget about the grenade?"

Their eyes were weepy, face muscles hanging like boiled meat. Laura still looked cute with her dimples, her soft round arms and belly. I hoped she would develop a drug addiction and be forced to drop out of school.

They looked at each other with their mouths pinned shut.

"We don't know what you're talking about," Steve said.

I was too drunk to drive home, so I slept on Gary's floor under a patchwork of motel towels. I dreamed of a T-shirt orchard. T-shirts sprouted on metal trees from hanger-shaped buds. They were harvested at various sizes and sold by the bushel. I fell into a T-shirt silo and began to die, my screams muffled by cheap cotton.

I woke, my mouth full of towel and the others standing over me, smiling.

Kate Folk has fiction in or coming from SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, PANK, the Tin House blog and others.

Read her postcard.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Keith LaFaille.

W i g l e a f               10-19-13                                [home]