Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Hired Man - Tales of an Unwitting Driver

As I have mentioned in previous essays, my college years were filled with a variety of odd jobs that provided a substantial financial cushion during a very frugal period of my life. Amid yard work and house-cleaning, childcare and livestock medicating, one job dwarfs all others in longevity and peculiarity. This is the story of my time with LMG.

Please note that all accounts in this story are true. Many names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Every semester for the last two years of college, I would begin the term by sending an email to the faculty mailing list. In this message, I'd offer my services as a handyman and eager businessman. No job was too large or small, all rates were negotiable based on the hours and the details. It was my final year of entrepreneurial endeavors that lead me into a foray of chauffeurism, dry-cleaning, firearms, bar fights, and all-night binge-partying with one of the largest personalities in my sleepy midwestern college town.

I received the first email one weekday evening in the fall semester of my fourth year of college. A response to my request for work, the message was sparse and ellusive. The message read:


I received your message from a staff member of the college. I have a job for you. It requires basic errands and driving myself and my associates throughout the week.

If you are interested, meet me at 2pm on Thursday at Hardee's.


I shared this message with my housemates, wondered at the cryptic nature of the correspondence, and decided to give it a try. I drove down to the local Hardee's at 2pm, just as the email had dictated, and wandered into the burger joint with uncertainty. Fortunately for me, Hardee's is not busy at that hour, so the burly man sitting idly in the back of the dining facility was obviously my potential employer.

"Hi, I'm Chris. Are you...?"

"Have a seat, Chris. You want anything?" I declined. I was still a bit tenuous about this rendezvous. He was just finishing up a value meal, and slid his tray to the adjacent table.

"I have a very specific job for you, if you are up for the responsibility. Let me explain. My associates and I enjoy a night at the country club once a week, where we play cards, have a few drinks, and loosen up a bit. The only problem is that most of us are very well known in the community - Judges, Lawyers, Police Officers, etc. If one of us were to get a DUI, it'd be a huge scandal. That's where you come in." I nodded my head, only partially understanding what he wanted.

"Here's what this will look like. Once a week, you will pick up my dry cleaning and mail from here in town, and meet me at my house by 5:30pm. Put the laundry away in my closet, leave the mail on the kitchen counter, and then you'll prep the car. Once I get home from work, we'll head up to the country club. You hang out while I play cards, and then you drive me and whoever else needs a ride home. Additionally, if we decide that we want to go out on a weekend, I'll give you forty eight hours notice, and if you're available, it'll be the same scenario. Ten bucks an hour, fifteen on the weekends. Are you in?"

My mind was swirling at the proposal. The terms seemed reasonable, though a bit socially restricting. We mulled over the details. He gave me a crisp one hundred dollar bill as "petty cash" to cover dry cleaning, fuel for his brand new Chevy Suburban, and any other costs that I might incur. He gave me a ledger to keep a record of all expenses, all receipts for the transactions made, and an accounting of my hours of service. Finally, he gave me a set of keys to his car and his home. We agreed upon the first day of my employment, and it was settled. I was now the driver.

My first day of work I was uneasy as I drove my beat up pickup truck to the cleaners. As the old woman at the counter made change for the crisp hundred dollar bill, she eyed me with a skeptical glance. Everyone new everyone in that little West Central Illinois community, and I certainly wasn't LMG. But she gave me his bag and sent me on my way. At the post office, the PO box gave put up no argument as I retrieved the mail.

Arriving at the old farm house, I deposited the deliveries in their respective places. A note on the counter top instructed me to "Grab some movies from the entertainment center for the Suburban DVD player." I went to the collection of DVD's and I froze.

Choosing a man's entertainment was a huge responsibility, especially when I'd only known the man for a few days. I grabbed a collection of safe comedies, mixing in a few classics and one or two cult favorites. This would be a good way to learn a bit more about my new employers tastes in theater.

I grabbed the keys to the immaculate new vehicle and made sure that everything was in order. As I was finishing up, the man pulled into the drive. Not long after, we were on our way to the country club - LMG in the back seat, and me behind the wheel. I heard the crisp crack of an aluminum tab against a can, and glanced in my rear view mirror to find my employer enjoying a Miller Light.

At the club, I was given a desk in the office space, a place where I could relax and work on my school work. I was instructed to keep my phone at the ready, in case I was needed. A few moments later, a woman came in with a menu. Both of us were slightly uneasy about the situation, but as LMG had told her that he was covering anything I ate, I ordered a pork chop, sweet potato, and a Diet Cola. It was delicious.

The night ended without note, and I drove the gentleman home. After a night of carousing with old friends, his guarded tongue had loosened. The man spoke of living in Chicago, where he felt like a medium-sized fish in an ocean. But in Monmouth, he was a shark in a cow pond, and the power and influence he had in the community was awesome. I wasn't sure how much of this was bravado and how much was legitimate, but either way it made me simultaneously thrilled to be associated with him, and slightly scared of his company.

And so it went. Once a week I'd drive LMG to his card games, and do my homework over a fine dinner. Occasionally he would call me, asking me to run to the store for cigarettes, or a bottle of Jack Daniels. One night he asked me to run back out to his house and retrieve his humidor. Not a few cigars, but his entire humidor. And that is exactly what I did.

One evening, as I was working through an assigned reading, I received a call. On the other end I heard,

"Chris! Get in here. We need you for an important mission!"

Upon entering the smoky barroom, I was greeted with the jovial cry of at least a dozen men. LMG beckoned, then made his order.

"Lynard  Skynard. I need you to find me the most Lynard Skynard you can get your hands on. If you get back here in thirty minutes, I'll make it well worth your while." With that, he turned back to his card game.

I flew out of the parking lot, calling my roommates as I drove. By the time I reached the house, my housemate Brian had finished burning the bands 2000 greatest hits album. I flew into the house, told the guys that I would explain later, and made it back into the country club with fifteen minutes to spare. When I returned to the table, my benefactor was waiting with a crisp one hundred dollar bill. He handed it to me and directed me to the bartender, who popped the disc into the sound system. Then LMG beckoned me back to his table. They had switched from cards to dice, and evidently needed a fourth player.

"Here's fifty bucks. You play and at the end of the night, anything you win above it is yours. I just want my fifty bucks back."

A man gambles differently when he's sitting across the table from his bookie. I don't think I've played a game so conservatively in my life. But by the end of the night, I was up one hundred and twenty dollars. I paid my debts, pocketed my earnings, and gathered my books from the office. the drive home was filled with talk of secret missions.

"You know I was a special operative for the Marines? Spent some time in Panama without a name. Missions my wife doesn't even know about, doing things she'd never forgive me for." Something about the man's tone made me uncertain as to his credulity, but something deeper made me certain that he was telling the truth. I drove on in silence.

It was shortly after that night that I found the gun.


This is part one of a much greater story. Watch for more on the story of LMG in future publications.

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