the box

nevermore...“Maybe it’s the Ark of the Covenant,” Wally speculated.

Marty scratched his ear as he considered this possibility.

“I think the Ark is a lot bigger than that box. It could have a model of the Ark in it, though.”

Wally chuckled. “Yeah, one that Jesus made as a kid, to play with his toy Jew soldiers.” He peered through his bifocals at the computer screen and chuckled some more behind his big grey-red beard. His thinning pony tail bounced around on the back of his denim jacket.

“Yeah!” Marty concurred, sticking his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and smiling with all his round face and dark eyes. He leaned against the high counter in front of Wally’s office desk. “I could see him marching his Jew soldiers against his Philistine soldiers, and laying ’em waste with his toy Ark. But every time he plays with it, all the goats in the neighborhood die, so his mom has to take it away!”

Now Wally practically giggled, not too common an occurrence with this crusty hippie. “But that still doesn’t explain how it got in that box.”

“In that locker,” Marty added.

“In our storage business.”

The mysterious box had arrived in Unit C-3 over a year earlier. A client had toured the facility, picked out the largest available commercial storage unit, fully prepaid a two-year contract, and disappeared. A few days later the guys had noticed the big, sliding warehouse doors on Unit C-3 were sealed with heavy chains and several padlocks. Curious, they had set up a stepladder and peeked through the window high up in the door.

Unit C-3 measured about twenty feet square. Its partition walls did not quite extend to the barrel roof of the old warehouse, and a little light spilled in around the edges. There were two objects in the otherwise clean-swept enclosure. The first, in the exact center of the space, was a square card table. The second was a loosely-sealed cardboard box, about the size of a microwave oven, sitting centered on the table.

Wally and Marty had begun to speculate at once.

In his high, soft voice, Wally wondered “Maybe it’s full of dirty-bomb parts.”

In his deep, loud voice, Marty guessed.”Maybe it’s got a human head in it.”

They forgot all about it until the neighbors in C-4 asked about expanding. The renters in C-4 were, hands-down, Wally and Marty’s favorite commercial tenant. No, they did not pay their rent two years in advance like the mystery tenant of C-3. They were not as cute as the ladies who stored the sporting-event paraphernalia in D-3. What ingratiated Wally and Marty to Mr. C-4 was what was stored there.

C-4 was rented by The Onion.

You can forgive the occasional late payment, and overlook the ugly mug, when your storage business is packed to the rafters with Onions, the craziest satire newspaper ever to grace the planet. One of my favorite articles ever to run in that paper bore the headline “Whales Beach Themselves In Protest”. That was years ago. Recently I hooked up with my high school buddy George W. after thirty years. As he gave me the rundown of how he’d been spending his life, he wrote that he had spent a year publishing one-liners, such as “Whales Beach Themselves In Protest.” Can you believe it? What an awesome world!

So when the Onion guys in C-4 inquired about expanding into C-3, Marty was all over it. He found Wally at his desk in the Self-Storage office. “C-3’s got five months left on his contract. Call him up and see if we can move him.”

Wally hunched over the keyboard. “That little table would fit in one of our smallest units. Heck, we could apply his five months in C-3 towards… lemme see… about twelve years in M-127.”

“Hey, he doesn’t have to know that. Just ask him if we can move him to another unit. We’ll renegotiate the rent at the end of the contract. Has he ever been back since dropping that thing off?”

“I dunno… the chain looks awful dirty. I don’t think that room’s been opened since he chained it up.”

They called, got a voicemail and left a message. They emailed. They wrote a letter and sent it snail mail. It came back undeliverable. They called and called, got the same answering machine, left the same message.

They stood on opposite sides of the stepladder, peeking in through the little square opening.

“Can’t we just cut the chain and move the box?” Marty asked.

“He’s got a contract, it’s paid up, we can’t touch it,” Wally muttered.

They considered the box in silence a while.

“Maybe it’s full of money,” Marty murmured.

“Or crack.”

“It must be something stolen.”

“Or killed.”

“A head…” Marty lifted his black Greek fishing cap and scratched his own pate. Then he descended the ladder.

They called and wrote, and counted the days until they could cut the lock. About a week before the deadline, the chain and locks were gone. And so was the box. The table was still there.

“Did you see him?” Marty asked.

“No, I thought you must have handled him last night.”

“No, I –”

They headed for the office and reviewed the security tapes. There was no clear shot of Unit C-3 itself, but the area was pretty well covered. They carefully reviewed the film for the past 48 hours. They checked the keypad logs for the entrances. They could see no one, no evidence of an entry to account for the disappearance of the box.

Wally whistled softly and leaned back in his office chair. “Well, if that don’t beat all…”

“Weird,” Marty said, reaching for the coffee pot. “Hey, what was the guy like, anyway? You remember?”

“No, I never met him, you handled it, remember?”

“I did? No, I didn’t! Did I…?” Marty sipped his coffee. “Weird.”

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