“Come on, man, it’s an easy three grand. We just gotta drive through the night.”
I stared at Tucker, my best and stupidest friend. “And it’s not drugs? We aren’t transporting coke or something?” I asked.
“No, dude, it’s not illegal,” He rolled his eyes, “and it’s not drugs or people. I asked.”
I chewed on my inner lip as I considered the drawbacks to joining Tucker on another of his poor life decisions. “What is it then?” I asked.
Tucker shrugged. “All the guy said was come by tonight with a friend.”
God, this was a mistake. I even knew at the time it was a mistake. But I was out of work, like a lot of other people right now. I just needed a little money to hold me over until I could get another job.
So two weeks ago, I went with Tucker to meet with a Mr. Ezra Mack.
Ezra is a portly, short dude with an oversized mustached and droopy eyes. We met with him at a vacant lot just outside of town where the summer fair usually set up, of course, that wasn’t really a thing this year so it was just an empty field with a few pieces of garbage fluttering about. After giving me a once over, Ezra just nodded and said, “You’ll do. Come on, boys.”
We followed Ezra to the other side of the lot, where a U-Haul truck quietly idled away. “Get this to the customer by mornin’, I’ll have three thousand for the each of you, and probably a few more jobs waiting.”
I glanced at Tucker, who was clearly just seeing dollar signs, but I was a little more skeptical. “What’s in it?” I asked.
Ezra chuckled before gesturing forward. “Take a peek son, just keep your distance,” He said.
Somewhat relieved that he didn’t seem all that concerned by me seeing what was inside, I went up to the truck and opened up the back.
All I could make out in the darkness was a cage. Then I saw a pair of eyes looking back and I heard a beastly snarl.
I yelped and fell back on my ass. Ezra laughed it up some more and he shut the door before I could get a better look. “Exotic pets, people pay an arm and a leg for somethin’ that can gobble them and their kids up,” He said.
“Is it a tiger?” Now Tucker looked disappointed he didn’t get a better look.
“Sure, if that makes you feel better.” Ezra helped me back to my feet and patted my shoulder. “Clock’s tickin’, so get a move on. I suggest you don’t think too hard about it and don’t take too many stops until you reach the customer. And stay out of the fuckin’ back. He’s caged for now, but I don’t want either of you pissin’ him off, I’m not payin’ for your hospital bill.”
I nodded. I didn’t need to be told twice. You know, I was actually relieved it was ‘just’ a tiger, considering the other less favorable options like drug or human trafficking.
After Tucker and I played a round of rock paper scissors, it turned out I was going to be driving for the first leg. We only stopped for a bit to get a six pack of Pepsi and a few bags of Lay Chips before we were on the road.
“So how big was it?” Tucker asked after we really got going.
“I couldn’t see, probably huge. Hope it’s not a man eater,” I joked.
Tucker elbowed me before he began tossing potato chips in his mouth. “Tigers were always my favorite as a kid,” He said between crunches. “But I don’t think they make good pets.”
“It’s legal in this state… I think. It’s like Tiger King.”
“Have you even fucking seen that show yet?”
“My ex changed the Netflix pass before I could.”
Tucker began to loudly cackle before an exceptionally loud snarl jerked us both back into reality- even if it was in a cage, there was a very dangerous animal in the back of our truck, only the bars of its cage and the thin siding of the truck keeping it from ripping our heads off if it so pleased. Tucker laughed nervously before stuffing more chips in his mouth.
I don’t really mind driving, not even at night. It’s kinda relaxing, usually the roads are pretty empty and I can just daydream away. Of course, usually I don’t have to hear quiet growling coming behind me every few minutes. It wasn’t constant, just every now and then I’d start to relax and then I’d hear the growling. Definitely kept me on alert.
Honestly, if we hadn’t gotten pulled over, we would’ve made it to the customer with no problems and I never would’ve thought twice about it.
But when I saw those red and blue lights in my side view mirror, my stomach practically dropped into my feet. Tucker had been pretty chipper until that point as well, I swear his dark face went a few shades paler as I pulled over. “What do we do?” He asked.
“Bullshit him until he leaves us the fuck alone,” I hissed back.
The cop strode up to the truck a minute or so later, flashing his light in. I could tell off the bat this was not going to be pleasant. I won’t pretend that I know every cop in the world, but every cop I’ve met has been an insufferable jackass. Especially when they think I’m up to something, which other than that night, I really haven’t ever been.
“License and registration, please,” He said.
I just reminded myself he had a gun before I got my license. “Not my truck, officer, I’m doing a favor for a friend,” I said.
“What kind of favor?” He eyed the truck.
“Moving things. We’ve been driving for like five hours already,” I said.
The cop ‘humphed’ before glancing at my license. I prayed for it to be over.
But of course, the tiger chose that moment to start kicking up a ruckus.
I cringed as I heard the growling and snarling kick up full force, and I knew I heard Tucker face palm.
The cop scowled before handing me back the license. “Stay there,” He ordered before he strode to the back of the truck. I didn’t bother with the ‘But you need a warrant’ bit, I knew I was screwed. My lack of knowledge about exotic pets was now coming to bite me in the ass. It probably was illegal to keep tigers in my state and I just didn’t know.
Cop threw open the back door. There was a beat of silence. Then a ‘What the-’. Then a crash and a scream of terror.
Didn’t matter if the guy was a jerk, I immediately leaped out of the truck to go rescue him, Tucker hot on my heels. I skidded to a stop in the back of the truck, flicked on my phone’s light, and pointed it into the truck, seeing that the bars had been ripped apart like cardboard before I focused on the ‘pet’.
… Yeah, no, that definitely wasn’t a tiger.
The humanoid creature back there was nearly big enough to reach the ceiling, his antlers made it the rest of the way. He had the cop crushed between his clawed hands, the man’s face white with shock before the creature opened its mouth and smashed down on his skull.
Blood and gore sprayed out from what remained of the cop’s head and Tucker did the smart thing by slamming the door shut.
We both bolted for the front of the truck, before I made it I ended up spewing out my stomach contents all over the ground. With trembling legs I climbed back into the truck, where Tucker was in the middle of a panic attack.
“What… the fuck… was that?” Tucker managed to get out as he hyperventilated.
I shook my head, wiping a bit of puke off my lips. I now missed the growling, now replaced by crunching and a wet tearing. I glanced at the GPS, we had an hour to go.
Mechanically, I put the truck in gear and began driving off, ignoring Tucker asking what the fuck we were doing. In truth, I’m not sure what I was thinking. All I could think was ‘get this fucker to our destination and get the hell out of here’.
The chewing became white noise, my focus mostly on the road in front of us. Our destination was thankfully tucked way back in the woods, no more interstate for us, but what was worse was when the horrifying mastication of the body finally drew to a close.
The chewing was replaced by a sound that made the hair on my neck stand on end.
Whispering. From the back of the truck I swear to god I heard whispering.
I craned my ears in an attempt to make out any distinct words, but it was too muffled for me to make out any clear words. Tucker began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, whimpering in between each breath. I just gripped that steering wheel even tighter and watched the minutes tick down slowly on the GPS.
The house we pulled up to was pretty nice, it wasn’t like a woodland mansion or anything but I certainly couldn’t afford it. Tucker bailed from the truck before I even came to a full stop, and I wasn’t far behind him.
I sped walk to the front door and didn’t even knock before the customer opened up.
He looked so normal, man. Like the average dude you’d pass on the sidewalk and promptly forget in two seconds. Not like a person who was buying monsters. But he glanced back at the truck and his eyes just lit up. “Is he here?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I wiped the sweat off my forehead, “The cage is broken though. And it ate someone.”
The man sighed and somehow had the nerve to look relieved. “Well, if he’d fed, that’ll actually make things easier. His hunger will be sated for the moment. Come on in, put your feet up for a bit. We can handle it from here,” He said.
Tucker and I waited in the man’s kitchen, sipping flat Pepsi and doing our best not to look out the window where the man and a few other people were getting that thing out of the back of the truck. The man came in about half an hour later, told us they sprayed out the inside of the truck, handed us a few wadded up hundred dollar bills for a tip (“since you arrived almost an hour before the estimated time”, he said), and we went home.
It was quiet in the cab on the way back. Unnervingly quiet. Tucker wasn’t cracking jokes, we kept the radio off, and we did our best not to stare at the abandoned cop car by the side of the road as we passed on by.
No one’s ever questioned us about the missing cop, even when we told Ezra what happened he seemed unbothered. He was more pissed about the cage being broken, saying his boss was going to be ticked to learn that this new cage didn’t hold up to snuff. We got paid, I went home, and I did my best to wipe the night’s events from my mind.
I hoped it would never come back to bite me either. But of course, I was wrong.
Yesterday I went grocery shopping and came home to Tucker twiddling his thumbs and a woman wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves pushed up, revealing a nasty scar on her forearm that looked like a bite mark.
“You’re Killion?” She asked. Still too flabbergasted about there being a stranger in my living room, I just nodded. “Good. Tucker here told me how well you handled yourself with the last delivery.”
She placed a check on my coffee table.
“I’m Beth, Ezra’s boss. I’m here offering you full time work. I promise, they won’t all be nearly as rough as that first one.”
… Like I said, I was out of a job.