In 1999 (Part 4)

A hand large enough, had it had webbed fingers and a tan, to be mistaken for a baseball glove grasped the ice cream from behind the counter. The hand belonged to Vernon Punch. Extending out upon a long, pale arm, Vernon’s hand met Kane and gave him the ice cream. Kane accepted it without a word, and then fetched one dollar and fifty cents from his pocket with which to settle the bill. The enormous hand retracted, and deposited the money into an upturned motorcycle helmet serving as a cash register.

Kane sat in mindless dismay on a cheap folding chair by the van. His forehead dripped with sweat like a melting ice cream; his ice cream remained firm and cool, like a forehead that was not sweaty. The van rocked and squeaked as Vernon stepped out of the other side. He walked around, chocolate chip ice cream in hand, and sat on the plastic deckchair next to Kane, observing the Messianic command to take the lowest place at a feast. The reclining seat could barely accommodate his seven-feet-tall frame, which overhung at each end like a bratwurst on bread. His long mop of golden curls dangled almost to the ground.

Kane licked his ice cream, then squinted, shook his head, and looked at Vernon as though recalling a long-forgotten memory.

“You’ve got it figured out then?” asked Vernon.

Kane tried some more ice cream. “Who the hell could figure this out?” he said.

“What I mean is,” said Vernon, “you’ve decided on a course of action.”

“Oh… yes.”

There was far more to experience at Vernon’s van than delicious ice cream and indifferent service, but few people knew it. For a few minutes that morning, Kane Jackson knew it.

“I thought about pills,” said Kane, staring ahead. “But they’re too uncertain.”

Vernon nodded.

“I wouldn’t jump from a bridge,” said Kane. “You know what I mean? Falling down for those few seconds, I’m afraid I’d feel the most painful regret—that’s not how I want to spend my final moments.”

Kane worked his ice cream into a spiralling peak, while Vernon, immune to brain-freeze, bit straight into his as if it were an apple.

“Some people gas themselves in the car. That seems too defeatist to me, even lazy.”

Vernon looked at Kane, and then went back to eating his ice cream.

“I just want it to be quick, and definite.” Kane stopped eating. He turned to Vernon. “You couldn’t… stop me, could you?”

Vernon inserted his entire ice cream cone into his mouth, chewed twice, and then swallowed. He cleared his throat and wiped his forearm across his moustache. “Sorry,” he said. “I can’t get involved in this one.”

Kane dropped his head and nodded. “I get it.”

The two remained silent while Kane finished his frosty snack. Kane then stood and took one last look from earth at the heavens, vast and blue. There’s much to enjoy about this place, he thought, provided you can stand the evil.

Vernon rose from the deckchair and walked back to the van. On the way, he paused where the shirtless young man with the ghostly face sat dangling his legs over the side of the roof. Vernon grabbed the young fellow’s foot with one hand, made a fist of his other hand and slammed it into the poor fellow’s knee. The young man rolled backwards on the roof, clutching his leg and wailing. Kane was oblivious to the noise.

He walked away. When he stepped off the vacant lot and onto the road he squinted, shook his head and looked back. All he saw was a regular old ice cream van, and a tall, curly-haired stranger.

Kane got into his car, reached under the newspaper on the passenger’s seat and retrieved a small revolver. He looked at it in his hand before placing it in his lap.

Vernon Punch returned inside his van and watched Kane Jackson’s blue BMW crawl away up the street.

Half an hour later, the A-Team digital alarm clock in Vernon’s ice cream van buzzed aggressively. Vernon switched the alarm off, took a piece of chalk and struck through Kane Jackson’s name on the chalkboard on the wall.



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