Ken Lane sorted through his letters and advertisement fliers into the rows of slots at his tall letter case at the Jackson Post Office. A heavy sigh of boredom heaved up from his diaphragm as it did every morning at this time.
“Through rain and sleet and snow…I live my boring life.”
Such is the way of the United States mail carrier.
Delivering the mail was not his dream job of exploring the world and writing tales of his travels, but it was a job. In these depressed economic times and in the financial state of the government post office, he counted himself lucky to be employed. Still, he felt he was coasting through life without really living it. Boredom rained down on his meager existence.
“Oh my gawd!” a coworker called out.
At last. Something to break up the monotony of the morning. Ken dropped the last of his first-class mail into a white plastic tub and glanced over his glasses at the excited female delivering a sorted tray of mail to the letter case across the aisle.
“What’s up, JoJo?”
The chubby woman with cornrows waved a newspaper section under his nose. “You have to hear your horoscope for the day.”
Ken groaned inside. Was he going to listen to that pathetic nonsense again? No matter how many times he had told the New Age postal clerk he was not interested, she insisted on reading his daily horoscope aloud to him, stating it would do him good to listen to what the stars had in store for him.
“It says today you’ll need extra courage in dealing with a potentially dangerous situation.”
The postal carrier kitty-corner from Ken’s case snorted. “In other words, if you’re more than ten minutes behind in mail delivery, some old lady waiting for her social security check is gonna go postal on your hide.”
“Not funny, DeWayne.” JoJo threw down a mail tub at the laughing carrier’s feet, kicking up a fine cloud of paper dust. “Something bad could happen to Ken on his route. He already delivers to the worst street in Jackson.”
Ken gathered up his MP3 player and tall steel travel mug to take to his mail truck. “Awww, come on. Detroit Street isn’t that
bad.” He looked at JoJo with annoyance. “And you know I don’t believe in those stupid horoscope things.”
“But remember in January? It said you were due for a winning day and you won the Super Bowl pool. And on Valentine’s Day it said someone from your past was looking for you, and your ex showed up on your doorstep asking for a second chance.”
“So? I’ve told you before. I don’t let the stars rule my day.” Ken hunched his United States Postal Service jacket over his shoulders. “I take my destiny into my own hands.”
“Usually on a nightly basis because you can’t get a date.” DeWayne doubled over with laughter at his own joke. Everyone else ignored him.
JoJo watched Ken shut off his overhead light at his mail case and grab his keys. “Would it kill you to be a little cautious today? Please?”
“If it’ll make you happy.” Ken tipped his postal cap in her direction. “But I’m telling you, there’s nothing to worry about. Today will be the same boring day I always have, and you will feel silly about nagging me over this gloom-and-doom horoscope crap.”
* * * *
The overcast skies foretold of an early springtime thunderstorm, and at the rate the gray clouds were blowing in, the cold, heavy rain would come before noon. Ken turned down Detroit Street and, as per his habit, parked the mail truck in front of an older house with peeling yellow paint.
Once a thriving neighborhood, Detroit Street was now a statistic of urban blight. Most of the occupied homes were deteriorating, owned by the elderly, new immigrants, or the poor. Many of the houses sat boarded up and abandoned, susceptible to squatters or drug dealers. Ken grunted, took a long swig of his cold coffee, and dragged himself out of the truck. After a good stretch and a glance around the neighborhood, he rolled open the back end of his truck, donned his official postal rain gear, and pulled out his canvas delivery cart.
While adding the first-class mail, magazines, dated circular advisements, and packages to the deep pockets of his mail cart, Ken cast his grim gaze down and across the street at a series of boarded-up and abandoned houses. It would be good to get this part of the route done and over with. The rain gear hampered his movements and, at times, blocked his vision. However, it was a necessary evil, especially on cold, wet days like today. With the mail secure under the waterproof flaps of the cart, Ken locked the truck and started rolling the mail cart toward the cracked sidewalk.
For the next hour, the deliveries ran smoothly. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Other than the fenced-in pit bull left out in the rain and the two separate SUVs stopping him on the street with the drivers asking if he had seen some white guy with red hair, the route was mundane.
On his return loop, Ken passed the abandoned houses and dropped off the final bits of mail to the last six currently occupied residences before crossing over a humongous puddle of water on his way back to the mail truck.
Rolling up the rear panel door, he threw a bundle of undeliverable mail into a plastic postal tub, turned, and folded down his soggy mail cart. A car with a loud, vibrating music system sped past, making the cold and dirty water on the street splash all over the mail carrier.
“Thanks a lot, you jerk!” Ken removed his streaked glasses. His cold fingers searched the outer pockets of the mail cart for a napkin to clean them off.
Ken’s head whipped to the left as psychedelic pain flared. His glasses dropped to the ground, and a voice boomed from behind him.
In reflex, Ken began to turn. “What the fu—”
“I said, don’t turn around!” The voice came from the other side of the mail truck, toward the sidewalk. “I have a weapon.”
Ken held his breath. United States postal employees were instructed not
to play hero. When faced with a potential mail robbery, let the person take what they wanted.
“You can have the mail. Not much money today. The government’s late with their checks again.”
“I don’t want the damn mail.” The voice was male. Tenor. Definitely nervous.
Ken raised his arms in the universal sign of surrender. “Look, man. All I have is a couple of fives. Maybe a ten. I don’t carry my bank card on me.”
“Get in the truck and give me the keys.”
Ken’s stomach sank. He had heard horror stories of postal employees who were forced to drive a criminal somewhere. How could he keep his mouth shut? “If you steal a postal vehicle, you’re looking at federal…”
“I-I lost my glasses. I can’t see.”
Pain lanced through Ken’s shoulder. He cried out. His knees hit the back bumper.
“You don’t need to see. Get inside now!”
Without a further delay, Ken crawled past the mail tubs and into the back end. He felt the weight of the other man rock the vehicle and heard the rear door roll down. Heavy breathing filled the claustrophobic space.
“Take off your clothes.”
“What?” Ken turned again. The sharp jab of a hard object in his side left no doubt the man indeed had a weapon.
“Face the front. Off with the uniform. Slowly. No tricks.”
Ken obeyed the order, trying to ignore the terrifying thoughts threatening to consume him. First, he removed the damp rain gear, then his blue United States Postal Service jacket. His uniform shirt followed it. He paused. The cold air hit his nipples, making the copper discs shrivel tightly.
“The pants too?”
“Yes.” The voice was calmer now.
A foggy film covered the windshield and the side windows making it impossible to see anything outside. Disheartened, Ken twisted his body into an awkward position. He had to remove his black boots before he could take off his pants. His ears picked up a shuffling sound behind him as he crouched forward to place the boots on the pile of clothes in the driver’s seat.
He returned to his original kneeling position and unbuckled his belt. The noise of his zipper releasing bounced off the metal sides of the cab, yet did not drown out the sound of the hitched breath behind him. Shifting his weight to each knee, Ken was able to finish removing his blue uniform pants and sat back on his haunches to await further instruction.
“Keep going,” the voice whispered. “I need everything off.”
Ken swallowed, confused and embarrassed by the surprise burn in his groin. After removing his socks, he reached up and grasped the waistband of his tented white briefs. With a swift tug, he slipped the underwear down and over his bubble butt, tossing them on top of the clothes pile.
The man behind him grunted and moved around some more. Ken felt his heart bang against his Adam’s apple in frightened anticipation. What would happen next?
“Put your hands behind your back.”
Ken did so without hesitation. He felt his wrists bound, one over the top of the other. Moments later, his ankles were wrapped together as well. An inconspicuous brush of his finger against the material told him his assailant used mailing straps to do the job. They would be impossible to break free from.
Ken took a test tug and shook his head. “What are you going to do with me?”