Little Fellers by Patrick Wilder Love

Silas Horace George II, or Junior as he was sometimes known, contorted himself into a chair reupholstered with strips of duct tape. He slumped between its armrests and said with a nasally grunt, “How do, buddy?” After the last telemarketing manager, Steve, abruptly stopped showing up for work, I was tasked with interviewing. Bob Stone, owner of Debt Masters America, deemed my sales figures shitty. So to make it worth his while to keep me on the payroll, I was to fill the empty desks.

In lieu of formal training, I adopted my predecessor’s minimalist interviewing style. Employing the first-come, first-serve hiring technique. Silas snaked his tongue on clapboard teeth peppered with chewing tobacco before hitching his upper lip and snorting. As he began to bite at his thumb cuticle, I remembered Bob’s advice: don’t ever feel the need to ask a professional telemarketer about his criminal background. And with that, Silas was hired.

 

HE DRESSED LIKE A SQUIRREL-NOURISHED, musket wielding Hatfield. Or maybe it was the McCoy clan with whom he proudly boasted of having deep ancestral roots. Regardless, Silas refined his carefully crafted hill-person façade with a few distinguished twists. In addition to a straw cowboy hat, he wore a collection of pressed French-cuff dress shirts unbuttoned to reveal tattered denim overalls stained with grease and unidentified viscous.

Beneath his overalls, Silas was often bare-chested save uneven patches of wiry auburn hair. He wore his sideburns in equally wiry chops meeting beneath several whiskered chins. Silas was never without his signature pearl-white sunglasses, most aptly described as decadently Elvis. “Morning y’all!” he’d harp from the side of his mouth while clinching a toothpick. His various accouterment easily fit within the company dress code, which expressly forbid t-shirts featuring cuss words and girly pictures.

Silas was reported to have stolen the sunglasses from a slight, nineteen-year-old salesman named Asher. A timid boy whose angled stoop and deflated shoulders made him an easy mark. He remained tightlipped about transgressions of his personal property in the face of extortion. Silas wrapped a heavy arm around the acne-dotted yet oddly baritone young man to coerce a lift home after his first day of work. Asher, having little tenure himself, agreed under the duress of Silas’ ominous decree, “We gonna be friends, ain’t we?”

And since his very first shift on a rainy afternoon in a nearly vacant strip mall housing Debt Masters’ telemarketing, Silas never drove himself to work, although he steadfastly insisted he owned a “cherry rig,” a “prime Ford truck.” Nevertheless, he simply appeared at the office in the mornings. Then as the final minute approached, Silas spied for lingering coworkers over the top of his shades. Peering for the lowered guard and physical attributes of somebody he could push into service.

Nobody ever refused.

Silas was a bulbous six-foot-seven, three hundred and fifty pounds of volatility. He lumbered like a great dinosaur with imprecise movements amongst weary telemarketers huddled in narrow aisles between tight workstations. His broad gestures were slow and encompassed the entire room. His sway of cumbersome mass resulted in tipped office plants, scattered desk trays, and dazed coworkers.

“Sorry, son. Didn’t see ya there, little feller.”

We were all little fellers.

 

AS DESK NEIGHBORS, SILAS AND I developed an intimate relationship. He took my change for breakfast Mountain Dew and smoked my cigarettes. He also devoured leftovers from a small cooler hidden beneath my station when I went to the bathroom. In return, I encouraged him to loosen that unyielding phlegm-wad lodged deep within his sagging chest. His morning ritual of soda, diet pills, and hacking over his waste bin went on for hours. It was like working in a tuberculosis ward from six to ten.

When he wasn’t farmer-blowing snot into the carpet, Silas was regaling his incredulous coworkers with his life’s exploits—his impoverished upbringing on a Tennessee tobacco farm, his father’s inspired sermons in a little white chapel, bare-knuckle brawls in dirt alleyways, and legendary football conquests.

“Take a look here, boys,” he’d say holding out a meaty hand the surface-area of a dinner plate. “This here,” he pointed, “is the championship ring.”

A cursory Google search substantiated his claim that the ring was indeed genuine. However, Silas’ conspicuous absence from online team photos led to much speculation. Did he somehow blackmail the ring’s true owner? Claiming, perhaps, that he could supply photos of prostitutes in the athlete’s dorm room? Or had he sideswiped a jogger on a secluded backcountry road, eating the evidence and taking the ring as a keepsake?

“Why can’t we find you anywhere on the roster?”

“My brother and I was bangin’ out a couple hotties in a motel down in Tuscaloosa.”

“Where exactly is Tuscaloosa, Silas?”

He lowered Asher’s sunglasses to reveal painfully bloodshot eyes. “Down in the dirty South, ya dumb sons a bitches.”

 

WHO WERE WE TO QUESTION SILAS? Such brotherly love was in fact totally in line with his self-ascribed title, “family man and amateur preacher.” He’d recently been so kind, he told us, as to relocate his aging parents into his very own home. “I let ‘em lives with me now. Papa’s pulpit days is spent,” he whispered, kissing a tiny crucifix.

“No kidding. You live with your parents.”

“Yeah, I lent Pa my truck to see the doctor, so I needs a ride home, brother.” And before the hint of an agreement, Silas was riding shotgun in my little, rattling Toyota. “I also need twenty bucks ‘till payday,” he said, filling his lower lip with a caterpillar of tobacco. He spat out the window and banged the roof with his hand. “Let’s get a move on, little feller.”

I drove him to a small middle-class development two exits from Debt Masters. Like most of the houses in his cul-de-sac, Silas’ was a greyish-yellow ranch. The lawn was elaborately decorated. Pointy-hat gnomes and faded flamingos accented several edged gardens. The American flag was raised from a pole near the mailbox where a decorative wheelbarrow-planter held colorful flowers.

“Nice house, Silas.”

The porch was artificial turf, and there was a painted welcome sign in the shape of a trout. “Is that your truck there?” I asked, signaling to a large, white Ford parked in the conjoining garage. The bumper read, “My kids and my money go to the University of Northern Colorado.”

“Yup, that’s her.”

Silas wiped brown spittle from his chin with the back of his hand. He nodded to Ma and Pa, who sat truck-side in matching plastic chairs. Ma was fanning herself with a Hollywood magazine. The Right Reverend Silas Sr., although elderly, was clearly not “a man in need of constant treatments.” Nor was he withering away with chronic pain, dependent on Silas’ careful touch in his “blessed final days.”

He stood. “Junior’s home, Ma.”

“Okay, everything looks good here,” Silas said, refusing to unfold himself from my car. “Let’s get down to Crocked before happy hours’ up.” He punched my shoulder. “Go, boy!” As I shifted into reverse, Silas’ pappy shook his head and slowly returned to his roost.

He was probably lamenting my predicament.

Silas had developed a reputation in his first weeks with the firm for attaching himself to unfortunate dupes for days. Asher was lucky to have escaped with the small indignity of losing a pair of ridiculous novelty sunglasses. Other innocent coworkers trying to do Silas a quick solid later awakened in a detox facility, evicted, broke, and battered.

He ate your food, stretched out sweaters, attempted drunken violations of your sister, raided change jars, and read private journals aloud after inviting drug dealers over to watch the game. There were reports of random fluids splattered in bathroom closets and bloodstained towels stashed in crawlspaces. These gruesome finds would continue for months after a Silas occupation. As I drove to the bar I was already concocting my exit strategy.

I had to think fast.

Silas’ exasperated hosts eventually reached the breaking point after days without sleep. Clutching a kitchen cleaver and crumpled in the corner of their bedroom praying for the tyranny to end. Afraid of reprisal, initial Silas extraction tactics were formed as subtle suggestions. “Maybe you’d like to check in with your pa at home, buddy?” or, “I think I just saw a police cruiser outside.”

The starvation method was the next logical step. “I can’t go buy anymore rib eyes because my wallet somehow caught fire—and where is the dog?” Desperation ultimately led to the development of simple ruses. Stupid tricks you’d kick yourself for not thinking of in the first place. Childish ploys to trick Silas into vacating the smoldering ruins of a once tidy condo to make a pilgrimage to a much hyped bar.

“Seriously, dude, bitches everywhere.”

While Silas was off sneaking tugs from stranger’s beers or soliciting women to put their hands in his pockets, his ride would quietly disappear. Ditching Silas was a dangerous game. He was known to hold a grudge, but I didn’t care. The thought of sharing my futon for the weekend was terrifying. If I let my guard slip and fell asleep, God only knew what he’d do to me. So instead of driving to Crocked, I suggested another bar.

My old manager, Steve, had resurfaced with a text, saying he was out for drinks. His disappearance stemmed from his latest DUI. Since I figured Silas’ presence was his fault for abandoning his post, I decided the two should meet. Steve and Asher were laughing over cranberry vodkas when we arrived. Their faces grew long. Silas immediately attached himself to Asher. His string of recent sales meant he could afford drugs, and because Steve had a heavy physique sculpted by fifteen years of habitual beer intake. Though diminutive when compared to Silas, Steve wasn’t one to be pushed around.

After watching Silas nick Asher’s cigarettes from the table, I excused myself from the party. “Later, guys.”

Steve’s expression implored, please no, good god, no.

“I’m sorry to bolt, fellas, but I promised to meet somebody downtown,” I lied.

Steve gave me the finger.

An hour later, he slid out the rear patio and hurdled the gate while Silas was challenging the bartender to arm-wrestle. Once safely on the road, he called confirming he’d ditched Silas with Asher. “You owe me huge, dick,” he complained.

I agreed.

“Meet me at Crocked.”

 

BY THE TIME I HUNG UP, Silas was already in pursuit. Asher took his cue from Steve and left while Silas logged a formal complaint with bar management about the subpar condom selection in the bathroom vending machine. Without a driver, he charged down a dark frontage road. Walking for miles through muddy puddles and tearing his overalls on a barbed wire fence. Our phones buzzed as he called us one after the other, vibrating the beer nuts as if the Earth itself were trembling.

Eventually, Silas got ahold of Asher. Convincing the poor kid to pick him up at a remote gas station, reminding him, “I know where you live.” Then Silas called everybody in his Debt Masters circle until he reached Justin, aka J-Dawg. I had invited Justin to join us. He was my second hire. A categorically more vigorous interview revealed his only crime was a penchant for velour jumpsuits and unlaced high-tops. Silas assigned him the nickname MC Kim Chi due to his aspiration of becoming a rap impresario and because he was half Korean.

Having not yet been filled in on the evening’s prior events, he picked up his phone without hesitation. “Yeah, playa, what up?” He nodded, yeah, yeah. “Yeah, son, we over at Crocked, Yo. Come on out, homie.” Looking at Steve and me, he nodded. “They’re right here.”

“You dick,” Steve said as he handed me a beer. “This is your fault.”

“Sorry, little fellers.”

 

STREET NOISE ENVELOPED THE BAR when the double doors were thrown open minutes later. Darkened by a shadow cast by either a pre-diabetic yeti, or the foul smelling, sweat-lathered Silas. “Oh shit,” Steve said taking cover. Silas rushed us, swatting haphazardly with hammering fists. Finding safety behind an adjacent table, Steve yelled, “Go away, asshole!” Blood dripped from Silas’ pulpy mitt from where he’d destroyed an ashtray and pulverized my cellphone. Asher took the opportunity to flee.

“What are you doing?” I screamed.

Silas curled his whiskered lip and snorted before emptying the sole surviving beer. Normally, this is the time when bouncers are dispatched, but the man in a black t-shirt checking IDs atop a stool seemed to regard our situation as handled. “What the hell, Sasquatch?” Steve demanded. Silas slapped him across his ashen face and knocked his gelled hair akimbo. The retort of the shot gave little incentive for the bouncer to intervene save a diffident, “I don’t want to call the cops…”

Steve gingerly examined his wounded cheek with trembling fingers, which curled into an indignant fist. The big man winced at darting jabs like a horse covered in biting gnats. The impact created little more than a blink before Steve was swallowed in the loose flesh of Silas’ indomitable arms, then dragged like a petulant child to the door.

Before Silas could affect enough inertia to land a bludgeoning fist, I seized his arm. He quickly wrapped me in it. Steve, trapped in the other arm, slapped and swatted at Silas’ gut overhang. We struggled to free ourselves. I even bit, but my teeth imparted little damage through his overalls. He was taking us both out for “a little lesson in respectability.” We tipped the mint jar off the hostess stand and knocked down a sign advertising all-you-can-eat wings.

Resisting was no use.

We spilled out the front in a tangled mass. Pungent sweat dampened my face, and I became dizzy.

Not like this, I thought.

The details of my death became eerily coherent amid the suffocation stars as my head was squelched into Silas’ exposed underarm hair. I figured his heart would explode from the exertion. Then he’d collapse like a redwood tree shattering onto the pavement. Steve might survive despite internal bleeding after having his abdomen crushed, but I was screwed into place. My neck would snap on impact. I would be unable to move as Silas’ ample breast caused my asphyxiation.

They’d roll the fat fuck over and find me dead. Covered in vomit and smelling like the bus station bathroom.

As my end came nearer, Silas loosed a bellowing moan. “Ahhh, man!” he cried. “Why do you fellers ditch me?” Tears were streaming over his cheeks as he implored. “Tell me why?” He released me to affix a two-arm hug on Steve. “I love you guys,” he wailed as he cradled Steve, who for the second time that evening, gave me the finger.

“It’s ok, big guy,” Steve consoled.

Silas ratcheted his smothering embrace around his unlikely confidant. “I need to get home, buddy.”

“We’ll figure it out, Silas,” Steve assured.

The two shook hands.

Silas cupped his new friend’s shoulder then missed the curb as he stumbled into the parking lot. Jingling Steve’s car keys, he laughed in his nondescript, colloquial, redneck howl. “Later, little fellers.” Beeping the rusty, little Nissan’s single functioning taillight, he located the first car I’d ever seen him drive, but surly not, I assumed, the first one he’d operated without the benefit of insurance. With his head touching the dimpled roof, Silas revved the vibrating heap to a gurgle, filled his lip with tobacco, and drove away.

Steve sighed. “I lost my license anyways.”

 

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Patrick Wilder Love has studied creative writing at the University of Colorado and New York University. He lives in Denver with his family and they are pressuring him to start getting his work out there.

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