“An insightful way to put it.” Dr. McElroy pursed her lips. “As assistant baseball coach, you would report to Coach Hardwick. I must tell you, he doesn’t keep assistants very long. His last one, well, moved on and wasn’t replaced. Coach Hardwick likes to do it all himself, his own way. And he can be a man of few words.”
“I look forward to meeting him.” Chris had researched Coach Hardwick, evidently a well-known jerk. “I’m sure I can work with Coach Hardwick. He’s an institution in regional high-school baseball, and the Central Valley Musketeers have one of the finest programs in the state.”
“That’s true.” Dr. McElroy nodded, brightening. “Last year, several players were recruited for Division I and II.”
“Yes, I know.” Chris had already scouted the team online for his own purposes. He needed to befriend a quiet, insecure boy, most likely a kid with a troubled relationship to his father. Or better yet, a dead father. It was the same profile that a pedophile would use, but Chris was no pervert. His intent was to manipulate the boy, who was only the means to an end.
“So where do you see yourself in five years?”
“Oh, here, in Central Valley,” Chris lied.
“Why here, though? Why us?” Dr. McElroy tilted her head, and Chris sensed he had to deliver on his answer.
“I love it here, and the rolling hills of Pennsylvania are a real thing. It’s straight-up beautiful. I love the quiet setting and the small-town vibe.” Chris leaned over, as if he were about to open his heart, when he wasn’t even sure he had one. “But the truth is, I’m hoping to settle down here and raise a family. Central Valley just feels like home.”
“Well, that sounds wonderful! I must say, you lived up to all of my expectations.” Dr. McElroy smiled warmly and closed the file. “Congratulations, Chris, you’ve got the job! Let me be the first to welcome you to Central Valley High School.”
“Terrific!” Chris extended his hand over the desk, flashing his most sincere grin.
It was time to set his plan in motion, commencing with step one.
Chris pulled into the Central Valley U-Haul dealership and parked his Jeep, a 2010 black Patriot. He slipped on a ball cap, got out of the car, and looked around. There were no other customers, which was why he’d come midmorning on a drizzly Wednesday. He didn’t want any witnesses.
The U-Haul office was an orange-and-brown corrugated cube with a glass storefront, and two security cameras on its roofline aimed at the front door and the parking lot, mounted high enough that Chris’s face would be hidden by the brim of his ball cap.
The dealership was smaller than the Ryder and Penske dealerships, but it had a storage facility out back, and the units were temperature- and humidity-controlled, making them the perfect place to store ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which was the main component of homemade IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, like an ANFO bomb.
Chris crossed to the lineup of gleaming white-and-orange pickups, cargo vans, and box trucks in several different lengths. The ten-foot box truck would be large enough to hold the fifty bags of fertilizer and the other equipment. If a ten-footer wasn’t available, the fifteen-footer would do, though it was slower and its large size could attract attention.
Chris spotted only one ten-footer parked in the lot. According to the website, it was available next week, but he wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
“Hello, sir, I’m Rick.” A salesclerk came over in a green polo shirt with a logo patch and khaki pants.
“Hi, I’m Mike Jacobs. Nice to meet you.” Chris extended a hand, and Rick shook it with a smile.
“How can I help you today?”
“I’m interested in the ten-footer.” Chris gestured to the truck. “Is this the only one you have?”
“Yes. When do you need it?”
“Hmph.” Chris paused, for show. “Let me think, today is Wednesday the thirteenth. I need it for Monday of next week, the eighteenth. Is it available?”
“I have to check and get you a rate quote. You know, you can check availability and reserve online with a credit card.”
“I saw that, but I didn’t want to reserve it online and send my nephew over to pick it up, only to find out that it’s not available.”
The clerk hesitated. “Did you say your nephew’s going to be picking it up?”
“Yes, he’ll be the one to come in and get it. I’m only in town for the day. I’ll pay for it once I’m sure of my plans.”
“How old is he?”
“Seventeen, a high-school junior.” Chris didn’t elaborate, because he couldn’t. Not yet anyway. He’d just gotten the email confirming that he’d been hired and he was on his way to the school-district office, where he’d fill out the remaining forms. He’d start classes tomorrow and he’d have to pick a boy right away.
“Oh, that’s a problem. He has to be eighteen to rent one of our box trucks.”
Chris blinked. “But I’d be renting it, not him.”
“Sorry, but just the same. He can’t pick it up for you or drive if he’s under eighteen.”
“Really?” Chris asked, feigning surprise. Ryder had a minimum age of eighteen and at Penske, it was twenty-one. “But he has a driver’s license, and I’ll send him in with cash.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you out. Company rules. It’s on the website in the FAQs.”
“Rick, can you bend the rules, just this once? I can’t come all the way back to Central Valley just to pick up the truck.”
“Nope, sorry.” The clerk motioned to the trailers at the end of the row. “Can you use a trailer? He’d only have to be sixteen to rent a trailer.”
“No, I really need the truck.”
“Then I can’t help you, sorry. Did you check Zeke’s?”
“What’s that?” Chris’s ears pricked up.
“Oh, you’re not from here, that’s right. Everybody knows Zeke.” The clerk smiled. “He’s a Central Valley old-timer. He fixes farm trucks. Actually, he can fix anything. He always has a truck sitting around to sell or rent, and all the locals use him when we don’t have availability. I doubt he’d be picky about renting it to a seventeen-year-old. Most of those farm kids been driving since they were thirteen.”