“Good to know,” Chris said, meaning it. “Where’s his shop?”
“Intersection of Brookfield and Glencross, just out of town.” The clerk smiled wryly. “It doesn’t have a sign but you can’t miss it.”
Fifteen minutes later, Chris was driving down Brookfield Road, understanding what the clerk had meant by not being able to miss Zeke’s. The intersection of Brookfield and Glencross was in the middle of a soybean field, and on one corner was an ancient cinder-block garage surrounded by old trucks, rusted tractors, and used farm equipment next to precarious stacks of old tires, bicycles, and random kitchen appliances.
Chris turned into the grimy asphalt lot and parked in front of the garage. He got out of the car, keeping his ball cap on though there were no security cameras. No one else was around, and the only sound was tuneless singing coming from one of the open bays.
“Zeke?” Chris called out, entering the garage, where a grizzled octogenarian in greasy overalls was working on an old Ford pickup on the lift. A cigarette dangled from his mouth, and his glasses had been repaired with a Band-Aid over the bridge.
Chris smiled pleasantly. “Hi, my name’s Pat Nickerson. I hear that you might have a truck to let. My nephew’s going to pick it up for me because I’m only in town for today. But he’s seventeen. Can you work with that?”
“He a good boy?” Zeke’s eyes narrowed.
“Then no!” Zeke burst into laughter, which turned into hacking, though he didn’t remove the cigarette from his mouth.
Chris smiled. The guy was perfect.
“What kind of truck you need?” Zeke returned to working under the vehicle.
“A box truck, a ten-footer.”
“I got two box trucks, a twelve-footer and a big mama.”
“The twelve-footer will do. Does it run okay?”
“Oh, you need it to run?” Zeke asked, deadpan, then started laughing and hacking again.
Chris smiled, playing along, though he was deadly serious. An unreliable truck would not be the ticket. “So it runs reliably.”
“Yes. I’d let you take it for a spin but it’s not here. My cousin’s usin’ it.”
“When will it be back? I need my nephew to pick it up next week, on Monday morning.”
“No problem. I’ve got that one and another coming back. This time of year, it’s slow, and nobody’s been in. I’ve always got somethin’. You’re moving Monday, we’ll have it here Sunday night.”
“Okay, let me double-check with my nephew to make sure, and I’ll get back to you.” Chris didn’t explain that the truck wasn’t for a move. It was for transporting an ANFO bomb that would kill as many people as possible and cause mass destruction. An ANFO bomb was easy to make and safe to assemble. Combine 96 percent ammonium nitrate fertilizer and 6 percent Number 2 fuel oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene in a drum, making a slurry the consistency of wet flour. To make it even more explosive, add nitromethane, a fuel used in motorsports or hobby rockets, readily available. Wire a blasting cap to TNT or a Tovex sausage, fire it with a simple electrical circuit, and drop it in the drum.
“Okay, fella. Call or stop back. My number’s in the book. How long you need the truck for?”
“Just the day or two.”
“Fine. Seventy-five bucks a day, cash. You gas it up. I’ll have it here Monday morning for your nephew. Nine o’clock.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Because I said so.” Zeke cackled, the cigarette burning close to his lips. “Okay, fella. See ya later.”
“See you,” Chris said, turning to go. He had so much to do. The bombing was happening on Tuesday. Only six days away.
“I’m Mr. Brennan, welcome to AP Government,” Chris said on a continuous loop, standing at the threshold to his classroom and greeting the students. They didn’t walk so much as shuffle, the girls in their Uggs and the boys in plastic slides.
“You’re Mr. Brennan? Oh, whoa!” one female student said, flushing in a way that Chris found charming. But he wasn’t tempted. The girls weren’t his target. The boys were.
Chris kept smiling, greeting the students while he assessed the boys, uniformly sloppy in T-shirts, sweatpants, or school logowear. Some of them met his eye with confidence, so he eliminated them from consideration. Instead he noted the boys who had weak grips, averted their eyes, or had bad acne. Nobody with acne felt good about themselves. At seventeen years old, Chris had hated his skin, his face, and himself.
“I’m Mr. Brennan, hello, how’re you doing?” Chris kept saying, as they kept coming. He had combed his class rosters and identified the boys he had both in class and on the baseball team. In this class, there were three—Evan Kostis, Jordan Larkin, and Michael “Raz” Sematov. Chris kept his eyes peeled for Evan, Jordan, or Raz, but they hadn’t come yet.
“Whoa!” “Awesome!” “Look!” the students said as they reached their desks, delighted to discover that a surprise snack awaited them. Chris had placed either a soft pretzel, a packet of chocolate cupcakes, or an apple at each seat.
“Mr. Brennan, why the snacks?” one of the boys called out, holding up his cupcakes.
“Why not?” Chris called back, remembering the boy’s name from the roster. The kid was Andrew Samins. “I figured you guys could use a treat.”
“Free?” Samins asked, incredulous. “Wow, thanks!”
“You’re welcome.” Chris smiled, making a mental note.
“Awesome, thanks!” “Wow!” “Cool!” “Thank you!” the students chorused, the hubbub intensifying as they compared treats, leading inevitably to noisy negotiation over the snacks, which had been his intent. They were guinea pigs in an experiment, they just didn’t know it. Their negotiations would give him clues about the boys’ personalities: who had power and who didn’t, who could be manipulated and who couldn’t. Of course, the fights were over the chocolate cupcakes and the soft pretzels. Nobody wanted the apples except for the girls, either that or they settled for them. Chris wanted to see what happened with Evan, Jordan, and Raz.
“But Mr. Brennan,” one girl said above the chatter, “we’re not supposed to eat in class. It makes crumbs, and mice come. I saw one in the music room before break.”