The next day I called into work and told Terry I would be fifteen minutes late. I figured Terry wouldn’t mind because I’m on his good side. I’m no kiss-ass, but I’ve given Terry a card the last two years on Bosses Day. The card I gave him this year was a cartoon of an old grandma with saggy tits that asked the question: How did my belly button get this high? Had nothing to do with Bosses Day, but Terry loved it, said I should do stand-up. I could make him laugh that laugh where if you have milk or Orange Fanta in your mouth it shoots out your nose and then everyone says I can’t believe that happened! I killed Terry all the time, and if I weren’t scared of driving on the interstate I would head to downtown Dallas and hit up some open-mic nights. But I only drive on gridded suburban streets on account of the time I hydroplaned at dusk in the middle of ass-clown-nowhere, in Blue Ridge, and flew threw the windshield of my Silverado because I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I was splayed out in the coarse Texas grass in such heavy, angry rain that each little droplet hurt the purple bruises forming all over my body. I felt like a Chinaman getting acupuncture. Then people showed up and put their hands to their mouths. They said oh-no and after a while I heard rotor blades and this guy put a tiny flashlight beam in my face and called me son. I was airlifted to Parkland. I had a halo bolted into my skull. They wired my jaw shut for six weeks, and I drank chocolate and vanilla Ensure all day every day, only a set of Depends away from being mistaken for my grandpa. So I stay off the interstate and drive a scooter because they don’t go very fast and when it rains I automatically know I can’t drive outside; when I see thunderheads forming I can taste chocolate Ensure in the back of my mouth! But the point is: I am thankful for my health and for my gainful employment and I would usually never call in sick or late under false pretenses, but this was different. Pizza World was threatening our very livelihoods!
I had Eugene meet me a block away, on a residential street lined with brick houses. There were wooden cheerleader megaphones staked into perfectly manicured front yards, and wooden footballs with painted numbers advertising that kids from Frisco High lived in those houses. The street was littered with imported Toyota and Lexus SUVs. Scattered down the sidewalks were packs of women power-walking or pushing strollers with oversized rubber tires that seemed excessive to me. I parked behind Eugene’s chalk-covered Pontiac, which looked terribly out of place, and got off my scooter. My adrenaline was pumping. He had my metallic red Kingman Spyder VS1 paintball gun with its electric-feed hopper loaded to the top with paintballs and handed it to me. We both put our scooter helmets on, and I strapped the gun across my chest. Eugene hit his key-fob to lock his Pontiac and got on my scooter.
“You ready to fucking do this?” he asked, and slapped the sides of my helmet. Eugene pressed the electric start and revved the engine.
I got on the back of the scooter. I made sure my gun’s compressed air tank was screwed on tightly and fired a pink round at the curb. A cluster of black birds darted from one of the oak trees across the street after the gun fired. I felt like a badass.
“Let’s do this,” I said.
When we came to the stop sign at the end of the street I could see Reed walking toward the intersection in the Pizza World suit. It was 11 a.m. on the dot, and both Gino’s and Pizza World were opening their doors for business. The lunch rush was about to begin. Eugene revved the engine again and we made a left, and tore across the street heading eastbound. Pizza World was up ahead on the right. The entrance to Gino’s looked vacant without me standing out there, waving at cars. Seeing my lack of presence in front of Gino’s made me even more certain that what I was about to do was the right thing.
I looked around Eugene’s shoulder and could see Reed waving at us. The wind was streaking around my helmet and the Texas heat made me feel alive. Hot sweat ran down my temples. Reed thought we were a couple of guys who might be hungry, a couple of fools who could easily be persuaded to turn into the Pizza World parking lot and dine on overpriced pizza. When we were twenty yards away, Eugene eased the scooter toward the curb and slowed almost to a crawl. Eugene balanced the scooter and I leveled my paintball gun, pulled the trigger, and discharged the entire hopper of balls in the course of twenty seconds. Reed didn’t know what was going on until the first wave of paintballs exploded in bursts of color on his suit. I knew all of those balls flying at him wouldn’t hurt because the suit was so padded. Besides, I didn’t want to hurt Reed; I just wanted to stain the suit. I wanted to injure the suit as much as possible, like a Spanish matador repeatedly stabbing a defenseless bull. I figured Pizza World would have to launder the suit at the very least and in doing so fade its vibrant colors beyond recovery.
I heard Reed shouting but didn’t know what he was saying. I thought I heard my name. Everything was so loud: the scooter, the paintball gun unleashing a colorful assault, Eugene and me yelling like a bunch of cowboys! By the time I was out of ammo Reed had dived behind a tiny redbud that didn’t hide him at all. The suit was a rainbow of colors; I thought for sure this would leave Pizza World without a curbside mascot for a couple of days. I yelled to Eugene, “Go, go, go,” and he merged across traffic. A few blocks down we turned in to a second residential and backtracked toward his car. My heart was beating so hard and never before, not even on the paintball field, had I ever felt this rush of adrenaline.
Eugene parked the scooter and we hugged each other and tried to give each other high-fives but missed because we were both so excited.
“That was fucking awesome!” I yelled. I handed my gun to Eugene.
“Dude, you fucking nailed him,” Eugene said, though raucous laughter. “He looked like a pussy crawling behind that tiny tree.”
“I know, I can’t believe how easy that was,” I said. “I guarantee we won’t be seeing the Pizza World suit for at least a week!”
“I wish we could have caught that all on video,” Eugene said. “It would definitely go viral: TWO DUDES SPRAY MASCOT WITH PAINTBALLS, or something like that.”
“Next time, man, we’ll get someone down the block, camera in hand,” I said. “But right now I got to get to work, gotta have an alibi.”
“Dude, go,” Eugene said. “We’ll celebrate later, Dave & Busters or something.”