Delivery & Installation, Operations, V8I3

Of Meth Labs, Guns, and Tool Sheds

(Photo courtesy of Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash)

Dusk crept around the ramshackle trailer court like a stalking cougar as I nervously looked around me. The full throttle roar of my trailer engine made it impossible to hear anything else, and I was feeling about as safe as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. 

A strange chemical odor kept teasing my nose in the swirling evening breezes, and the faint sulphury smell that made me gag did nothing to ease my mind. Maybe I should have checked the inside of the shed before I loaded it, but at the time, it didn’t seem like a pressing priority. 

Not getting caught or shot was slightly higher on the urgency scale, and I wasted no time with more frivolous concerns. 

This particular adventure started two months earlier when I received a pickup order for three buildings owned by the cheerful Dottie Branson. I remembered her deliveries very well. She was one of those chipper ladies whom it was a pleasure to deliver for. Even her phone message made you smile. 

“Hi, this is the crazy chicken lady! Sorry I didn’t get your call, but one of the roosters laid an egg, and I had to go get it. Leave a message!”

Due to her history of prompt rental payments on her first two buildings, the RTO company approved her for a rare third building on a rental contract to the same client. When I dropped off the third building a few months earlier, Mrs. Branson was bubbling with excitement with her plans for a guest bedroom. 

So, I was understandably surprised when I realized her buildings were the ones I was supposed to retrieve. 

In the next few days, I tried to call Mrs. Branson several times and got the same cheerful recording, but I didn’t hear back from her despite my friendly messages. 

Well, a week later found me wallowing over the potholes in the washed-out road leading up to her property in my empty rig. I was working the rare Saturday, and tacking on a double load of rental returns seemed like a fitting way to end the day. 

As I rounded the final turn and the little compound of sheds appeared, I was relieved to see that the homestead looked to be abandoned.  

Occasionally, RTO retrievals turn out to simply be abandoned buildings that the renter was unable or unwilling to notify the rental company about, and eventually they’re scheduled for retrieval. Hoping this was one of these scenarios, I cheerfully swung the truck and trailer into the weed infested driveway and proceeded to back up to the first building. 

Before I loaded anything, I did walk around the property a bit and confirmed that it was indeed abandoned. The doors were locked, but I didn’t need to go inside, so I proceeded to load the two smaller sheds. The bigger one that had been the main house would need to wait for the second trip.

With everything going smoothly, I was a little surprised and disconcerted when I heard yelling from the adjacent field as I finished loading the second building. 

Turning around, I spied a sweating, rotund fellow trotting toward me waving his hands. A dirty, torn, sleeveless T-shirt and baggy jeans stuffed into beat-up boots completed his hangdog look. Shutting down the rattling Honda on my trailer, I waited for him to reach me. 

“Hey there! Whatcha doing?” he panted. “You picking these buildings up?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Mrs. Branson no longer is renting them, and the rental company asked me to pick them up.” 

“Oh, I see.” The little fellow seemed a bit nonplussed. “By the way, my name’s Porky.” He thrust a chubby, grimy hand my way. 

“I live right over there,” he motioned behind him with a flailing hand, “and I just bought this property and was told the buildings came with it.” 

Shaking the proffered hand gingerly, I groaned inwardly. Not one of these messy situations, I thought.

“I’m very sorry, man, but these buildings belong to Hillbilly Shack Rentals. I have the paperwork in my truck to prove it. This happens from time to time. People try to sell things they do not own and then leave town.” 

“Are you carrying a gun?” he queried, looking up at me suspiciously. “Cuz I used to do repos, and I always carried a gun.” 

Taken aback at the abruptness of the pointed question, I had no time to answer before he continued.

“I’m sure you do, cuz nobody would be dumb enough to do what you’re doing without one.” He gave me a crooked grin. “At least I wouldn’t be.”

I decided to stay silent and let my dark sunglasses and grin do the talking. No point in telling him I didn’t even have my customary pocket knife that day, let alone a gun. Besides, I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going. Better to remain silent than to open a door I wouldn’t be able to shut. 

“If you are interested in purchasing these buildings,” I said, “I can give you the phone number for the owners. I’m sure they would be happy to let you rent or purchase them. However, I have these two loaded already and am duty bound to take them to the display location. If you want them, I can bring them back out next week.”

“Okay, sure thing,” Porky sighed. “What a mess!” he added. 

After exchanging phone numbers and giving him Hillbilly Shack Rental’s number, I took my load to the nearest display. However, I had a bad feeling about this setup. Porky had seemed a little too slick and quick to give up when I stated the legal facts, and I wondered what he had in mind.

That’s what made me decide to return for the third building right away instead of leaving it there until Porky could be bothered to contact the RTO company. I figured I could always re-deliver it if he legitimately purchased the shed.  

Two hours later, as my Dodge rumbled up the same pothole-filled road, I saw my suspicions had been correct. Several pickups were parked across Dottie’s driveway. As the Cummins rumbled to a stop, I saw Porky raise his greasy head above the hood of the car next door. When he saw who it was, he trotted right over.

“Hey, I know you got a gun and all, but I can’t let you take the shed,” he grumbled. “I tried calling the rental company, but they’re closed today.” 

Of course, I had forgotten it was Saturday. 

“Well,” I replied, “I am supposed to pick up the buildings. I can always bring them back out here when you get hold of them next week. I’m just the driver,” I finished. 

“Naw, you ain’t getting the building!” he blustered. “I know how this goes. If you take it, I’ll never see it again. Besides, we don’t need a gunfight here today. Cops will be mad if we do.” 

Well, he had a point. I was already pretty sure I didn’t want to deal with this guy again. If I took the building, I wasn’t planning on bringing it back. 

His fascination with guns had me nervous. Besides, I hadn’t even brought a knife to the gun fight he was bent on mentioning. I decided I had an aversion to gunplay as well, especially one where I was nothing more than a target. 

Grinning at him in an attempt to defuse the slightly tense situation, I did my best to act nonchalant. 

“Okay,” I said amiably. “I forgot today was Saturday. I’ll be in touch next week.” 

Well, weeks turned into a month and then two. Porky never got in touch despite numerous messages from me and the rental company rep. After several phone calls with the RTO company, Hillbilly Shacks asked me to just pick up the shed. 

That’s how one evening after a long day of running sheds all over Eastern Washington, I found myself in the vicinity again and decided to swing by. 

Memories of the retrieval I had done earlier the past winter were still fresh in my mind, and I could almost hear Bubba Thunderclap’s screaming threats in my ears. Maybe that’s why I could feel my blood pressure rise at least 30 minutes before I even got close.

As I rounded the last bend again on this road I had come to know quite well, I saw with a sinking heart that the little cabin was no longer there. Equal parts frustration and relief swept over me. Maybe I didn’t even have to deal with the gun-happy Porky. 

Looking around at the collection of rundown trailers and odd assortment of cars up on blocks, I suddenly spied a familiar roofline. There, behind a row of trees a few hundred feet away, was the missing shed. I couldn’t tell how they had moved it, but clearly, it was now residing at Porky’s place. 

Here we go again, I thought as I pulled up to the next driveway. When I climbed out of the cab, the gentle breeze brought me a fetid waft of gag-inducing smells. Now, I’d never been in a meth lab before, but I had a pretty good hunch there was one in the near vicinity. 

Heavy metal music from a distant mobile home added a menacing throb to the background, and a lonesome unseen hound bellowed his woes to the rising moon. It wasn’t full dark yet, but the sun had definitely set. Right about then, I could easily think of a dozen places I’d rather be. 

Swallowing the rising tide of unease in my throat, I approached the closest trailer house. A large purple painting of a pig adorned the front door with “Porky” scrawled across it in lipstick red paint. A stolen street sign shot full of holes adorned the small porch railing. Next to it, a battered board read “We don’t call 911. We call 357.” 

Putting my best confident face on, I knocked firmly on the door. A rustle of movement inside, and the rickety trailer house rocked slightly on its teetering blocks, but then silence. After several more knocks, I realized whoever was inside had no intention of showing their face, so I walked back to my rig parked close to the delinquent building. 

Whoever had moved the building definitely planned on it staying where it now rested. Big concrete pyramid blocks were attached to each skid at all four corners and metal straps ran over the skids to pins driven into the ground. 

Looking around me in the gathering gloom, I could almost see the headlines. 

“Idiot Trucker Shot Dead While Stealing Shed,” or “Drug War Involving Stolen Shed Takes a Deadly Turn.” 

Shaking my head at the thought, I decided I hadn’t come this far just to go back empty. After hurriedly looking over the shed and its makeshift anchors, I determined they would all pull off if I just hooked to the shed and dragged it up on the trailer. 

Preoccupied with these pressing issues, I never even looked inside the little cabin. With a few deft moves, I whipped my rig around and backed up to one end of the building. 

As I fired up the Honda on my trailer, the normally docile little engine sounded extraordinarily loud in the darkening gloom, and I grimaced as I looked around. No doubt Porky would pop out at any second now with his gun, looking for a fight. 

Taking one more look around, I went to work. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never loaded a building that fast before or since. The shed fairly flew up the trailer with the winch doing double time, and I never even stopped to tie the building down. 

Concrete blocks came loose with a shriek as they met the tail of my trailer, and the anchor straps ripped out and dangled along the sides of the building. No sooner had the back of the shack lifted off the ground before I was rolling out the driveway and letting the trailer back down. Flags, straps, and signs could wait. 

The road leading to this particular trailer park was quite narrow and filled with potholes, so the first half mile or so was slow going. I expected at any second to meet someone who would stop me. There was no way to pass on the narrow gravel road with a load like mine, so it was with pounding heart and sweating palms that I finally reached the main road with no mishaps. 

A mile up the road I knew there was a pull-off, so that’s where I headed to finish strapping the building down and putting my flags and signs up. 

While securing my load, I finally thought to check the inside of the little cabin. As I opened the door and peered into the dim shadows, I saw stacks of tools, some used and some new in boxes. A big box with a flat screen TV inside was propped up in the corner, and an odd assortment of ammo boxes filled a small shelving unit. A brand-new chain saw with tags still on it was in the middle, and a nice table saw completed the stash. 

Suddenly I realized I had probably grabbed Porky’s stash of stolen goods. Either that or he was taking stolen goods in trade for the drugs he was clearly cooking up. 

I stopped right there and locked the door. I had no desire to leave my fingerprints on any of that stuff. My heart was racing as I ran for my truck and hit the road. Suddenly, I wanted to be far away from Porky’s place with the shed I was hauling. Running into a mad drug dealer in the dark along the road wasn’t something I was prepared to face even if I had a gun, which I didn’t. 

Scarcely had I reached cruising speeds again when my nervous reverie was broken by the jangling of the phone through the truck’s speakers. The jolt to my heart rate was intense enough I decided then and there I was done with using the trucks Bluetooth system for phone calls. I hated the noise.

The number looked familiar in the caller ID and I decided to ignore it. I had no desire to talk to Porky just then. As I reached for the red “decline” button on the screen, the tires of the truck hit a pothole and my probing finger hit the green “accept” button instead. 

“Pull over you thief!” Porky’s blaring voice filled the cab. “You dirty rotten thief, you stole my tools! Pull over right now!” 

In disbelief I whipped my head around and there in my mirror came Porky’s jeep, high-beams flashing and passing on a double yellow line. The shadows along the lonely country road were deep enough I barely saw the darkened police cruiser parked on the shoulder ahead. However, Porky saw him when the trees around us lit up in pulsing blues and reds as the trooper whipped out behind us and accelerated to catch up. 

The truck cab turned fairly blue as Porky forgot his phone connection with me, slammed on the brakes, and began yelling and cursing at his bad luck. 

Just before the phone connection broke, I heard the trooper yelling, “Get out of the car with your hands up!”

An hour later as I pulled into the darkened display lot, I realized my heart rate was finally slowing back to normal. I decided I wasn’t getting paid enough to do these. 

Next time, I’d just call the cops. 

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