Header Graphic
Stories 1 Spring 2018

 Citizen Sam

      by Greg Jenkins

He waited with mild interest as his customer drove the shiny silver Volkswagen Beetle back onto the lot. Tall and heavily built, the salesman had thick black hair, a thick black mustache and swarthy skin that hinted of the sun-blasted desert.  His face, while not Hollywood-handsome, was easy enough to look at and indeed demanded one’s attention, perhaps because of the fierce, probing brown eyes.  He was wearing a finely tailored suit, dark blue with pale blue pinstripes, and—curiously—a Kevlar-coated blue fedora.  Hidden away in a holster strapped beneath the regal jacket was a Glock nine-millimeter handgun.

He used to be known as “President for Life”; now he was known simply as “Sam,” a car salesman in Dubuque, Iowa.  At first he’d doubted the wisdom of pursuing this unlikely path after his beloved republic had collapsed with a shudder under America’s intense, high-tech and utterly unprovoked military assault.  But for once his intel people had gotten it right.  Here, in broad day selling cars in Dubuque, he’d become quite invisible from the vengeful jackals that still scoured the globe searching for him.  Here, in the very heart of the infidel enemy’s corrupt homeland, he’d attained refuge and even a modicum of comfort.

The customer parked the car, got out and stared down at it, arms crossed on his chest.  He was young and thin as a rush swaying in the Euphrates, a freckled redhead in a white T-shirt and denim shorts, both too big for him.  His knees looked like knots.  His name was Howie.

 Sam went over to him—his stride retained some of the old swagger even yet—and gave him a wide toothy grin, eyes sparkling like stolen gems.

            “So,” Sam said.  “What you think, uh?”

            “I don’t know,” Howie said and kicked a tire.

            “Don’t do that.”

            “It’s a nice ride,” Howie admitted, “but there’s this guy up at Mega Motors that wants to make me a really sweet deal on a Jeep Wrangler.” 

            “Mega Motors!” 

             “I’ve always kinda had a thing for Jeeps.”

Like his new colleagues, Sam had no love for the rival dealership, a large-scale operation located a scant five miles up the freeway.  Nor did he have any love for Jeeps, begotten as they were by the satanic U. S. military, may its every soldier contract the plague.

 In something of a flashback to the old days, Sam felt a white-hot rage ignite inside him, down deep in his ample belly.  He stood closer to Howie, placed both hands on the boy’s bony shoulders and leaned down into his innocent freckled face.

            “Let me explain to you about Mega Motors,” he said, his voice rumbling like artillery.  “All they tell is lies, lies and more lies.  They are godless cowards, and we will slaughter them like dogs!”

 Howie’s eyes had expanded in alarm.  He tried to take a step backward but discovered he couldn’t.

            “They will surrender to us or be burned.  They have been doomed since the beginning of time.  God will roast their stomachs in hell!”

Sam freed up one hand so he could gesticulate as he spoke, but the other hand, which had shifted to the back of Howie’s neck, continued to clamp him securely.

            “I will gas them!” Sam shouted, his black mustache bristling no more than six inches from his customer’s flinching face.  “I will gas you!  What you think of that, uh?  I will gas you!”

 Sam’s boss, a short bald man wearing a banana-yellow suit and a cream-colored belt, drifted over.  He took his stumpy cigar out of his mouth and blew a puff of aromatic smoke.

            “Sam?” he said.  “Everything OK?”

 Then Sam remembered. 

He remembered who and where he was.  He remembered in particular the fevered, final events that’d capped his other life: the wail of air raid sirens, the lightning of tracer fire, the thunder of smart bombs, the surreal nightmare of toppling statues and crumbling hopes . . . then the long and tortuous clandestine journey through half a dozen countries to wind up here, peddling some of the same Western technology that had brought him low.  The irony of it!   

But he also remembered that here, at least, he was safe.  Safe for now, if only he could maintain his—

            “Sure,” he said quickly.  “Sure.  Everything fine.  I just telling my friend Howie he needs to consider gas mileage.  Especially these days.  Never know when trouble in the Middle East, the supply of oil . . .”

The boss nodded and walked away, trailing comfortable clouds of smoke.

            “You—you said you’d gas me,” Howie squeaked.

            “Absolutely,” Sam said, his smile reappearing, bright as the desert sun.  “When you buy this car, I gas you up—free tank of gas.  I do it myself.  Personally.  With love in my heart, uh?”

Howie relaxed somewhat and, released from the big man’s iron grip, turned to study the cute little Volkswagen once again.  It seemed almost to wink at him.  When he finally turned back to face Sam, Howie exhaled suddenly and forcefully.  It was a sound a man might make upon having a dagger rammed into his chest.

            “You drive a hard bargain,” he said.

            “So I’ve been told,” Sam smiled.

 Howie raised his hand and held it out toward the car in a kind of salute.  “But I’ll take it.”

 Beaming, Sam clasped the smaller man into a terrific bear hug.  “Of course you will,” Sam said with a roar of laughter, squeezing Howie tightly and lifting him clear off the ground.  “You’ll take it and you’ll like it.”


Bio:  Greg Jenkins has  had four books, including his recent novel A Face in the Sky, and roughly 55 short stories published.  His work has appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Prism InternationalSouth Dakota Review and Chicago Quarterly Review.