A chance encounter, Part III


Michael McGuire

Barry lay there, tipped over on the corner of Mitchell and Silver streets. Wheels still spinning, pointing crooked toward the sky. Eyes red, puffy. He did not move. A gaggle of carts gathered around him.

“I don’t see anything,” one of them said, poking around Barry’s undercarriage.

“What are we looking for?” said another.

Barry spoke: “You’re looking for some kind of electronic device.” His voice was hoarse. “Something this computer chip fits into.” He held it out for them to see. No bigger than a Wheat Thin. “I think it fell off me while I was tossing my cookies in the honeypot. All that heaving must’ve of jimmied it loose. Busted some blood vessels, too. My eyes are sore.”

They searched. No device. Just a few rust patches, some enflamed. Comes with the irritation and discomfort of growing old. Barry closed his eyes, feeling defeated. It’d been quite a trip – over a year since he blacked out on that snow bank and woke up 1,200 miles away in The Big Easy. He did what he had to in that strange place to make it, to see Norwich again. Broke his heart finding out seven others had been taken, still missing. Tammy, Rick, Randy, Pocky, Owen, Jan and Bernard. Like him, they were some of the oldest, most respected shopping carts in town. Bumping curbs and chilling on the corner before it was hip, even legal. Gone. Barry wanted to know why, but he was tired.

“I found something,” said a cart named Rich, sharp kid, pointing at the advertisement below Barry’s handlebar. “That placard, on the back of your carriage, didn’t it used to say ‘buy one, get one free’ Hamburger Helper?”

“Yeah. Stroganoff and taco,” Barry replied. “Good stuff. Expired back in June 2004, but I dug the design.”

“Well, now it shows some old guy smiling, holding a 32-ounce can of Metamucil. Says you can get one half-off with the purchase of another at full price,” Rich said. “Somebody wanted you to be regular.”

“Nobody more so than me,” Barry said distantly, sadly. He would’ve noticed the fiber advertisement sooner, but he hadn’t looked in a mirror since before disappearing. He was scared to see himself dressed as a woman; a crossed-up, caged heat sin buggy rolling down allies in search of strange men to push him around a little, ride in his basket.

Barry, refocusing on the ad: “Pull it out. Let’s see what they’re hiding.”

When something wanted out of Barry, be it food, beverage, firewood, lawnmower parts, or the occasional used futon, the force of its exit was legendary. And like a griddle exhaust pointed the wrong way in a diner, the old shopping cart’s enraged puking uncovered mysteries that both excited and confused. It dislodged the chip, which led him to the Metamucil advertisement. Behind the fiber ad, as expected, was a circuit board, an empty space where a Wheat Thin-sized chip should go.

“It’s a TrackUsense,” said Rich, pointing to the circuit board. “A popular homing device they put on expensive cars in case they get stolen. You are, or were, being followed.”

Barry: “What do you mean were being followed?”

Rich: “The board is fried. The wires are all burnt and the components are melted. Judging from the corrosion, looks like it happened months ago. Probably got wet or something.”

“For a while there I was selling hand grenades on Bourbon Street for extra scratch. Drunks were always spilling them on me. Sticky business.”

“Makes sense,” Rich said. “You must’ve felt a burning sensation when it flared up. Did you not notice?”

“Kid, after working a few nights in that part of town, I only would’ve noticed if there weren’t a burning sensation.”

“Good point.”

Rich called the customer service number on the back of the device and entered the license number. Like I said, sharp kid.

Rich set down the phone. “I know who it’s registered to. You’d better sit down, Barry.”