"I refuse to accept it in that condition," Ace said, glaring at the man who was holding out a clipboard and expecting him to sign the acceptance papers.
"Look, mister, I'm just the deliveryman, and nobody said anything about busted crates. So just sign it so I can get out of here."
Ace kept his hands at his side. "Maybe you can't read, but I can," he said. "The fine print on that contract says that once I accept shipment, it's my responsibility. That means that if it's broken, then it's my problem. But if I find out that it's broken before I sign, then it's your problem. Got it?"
For a moment the man stood there opening and closing his mouth. "Do you know what's in that thing?"
"I most certainly do, since I'm the one who ordered it. And paid for it, I might add."
The man still didn't seem to understand. "So let's get it out of here so we can -- "
"No," Ace said. "We open it here and now."
At that the man looked about him pointedly, as though Ace didn't understand exactly where they were. They were in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport. Right now there were only a few porters removing unclaimed bags from the carousels, but any minute the escalator to the left might start delivering a plane full of people. "You want me to uncrate the thing here? Now?" the man said quietly.
"Now," Ace said firmly. "You put it in my truck, it's mine, so I have to pay for it if it's damaged, and I paid too much for it to -- "
"Yeah, yeah," the man said, bored, then turned to a skinny kid standing next to Ace. The kid was wearing the same gray uniform that the guy giving the orders was wearing. "He always like that?"
"Naw, sometimes he's a real pain in the neck."
"I hope you're gettin' paid well."
"Actually..." he began, but a bark from Ace stopped him.
"Tim! You want to get away from that end of the crate? I don't want one of my guys touching it until I see that it's working."
With his back to Ace, the deliveryman grimaced. He was tired and hungry, and worse, he was alone. He'd have to uncrate the damned thing by himself all because of a little dent in one corner. Using a crowbar, he pried up one side of the fifteen-foot-long crate, and there, lying in a bed of Styrofoam pellets was the remote control. With a wicked little smile that he made sure no one saw, he pocketed the control, then kept on uncrating. When he got to the other end, Ace was bent over the opposite end, peering inside, a frown of concentration on his face.
"Psst," the deliveryman said to the kid in the uniform. The label on his pocket said, Tim, Kendrick Park. "Tim," the deliveryman said, then handed him the remote control.
"Is that what -- "
"Quiet," the man ordered. "Don't let him see it."
"Yeah, sure," Tim said, his eyes wide, looking like a kid with the world's biggest Nintendo game in his hands.
"Just don't push the buttons," the deliveryman said, "because the thing will start moving and it'll scare everybody."
"Yeah?" Tim said, somehow managing to open his eyes even wider. But Tim could no more resist the temptation than Adam could. The minute the crate was opened enough to see inside the near end, Tim pushed the buttons -- then was extremely satisfied when a woman behind him gave a yelp of fear.
"It's all right," Ace said to the crowd as he looked at the first of what was probably a planeload of travelers arriving in the baggage claim. "It's not real. It's just a fiberglass alligator sent here from California, and we're checking it for damages."
At his words the fear left their faces, but they showed no signs of moving closer to the baggage carousel. What some of them had just seen was what looked to be the enormous head of an alligator lift out of a wooden crate and snap its jaws at the man who was fearlessly putting his hands into the long box.
Copyright © 1999 by Deveraux, Inc. Published with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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