Author's Note: I've already produced this story as an e-book, but I value helpful feedback from any front, so be sure to dive in and tell me your thoughts. Thanks.
Update July 18, 2019: Story has been revised. There are now seven parts and a slight change in focus.
"I am not amused by your policies," Sammy said, as he squeezed the life out of his steering wheel, ready to bend it out of shape. "I am here for business, not for play. I expect to park for free."
The parking attendant, a dainty forty-year-old smoker with auburn hair and freckles, whistled at his guest's predicament. It was not the low rhythmic chime of a work tune he whistled, nor the low-pitched collapse of regret, but the simple o-shaped exhalation of apathy that escaped his mouth, and it cut Sammy deep beneath the skin. He had the bright doe-eyes of a ventriloquist's dummy, and the compassion of a ventriloquist's audience. He smiled with his thick lips and yellow chalky teeth. They looked like they were better fit for a cadaver.
"Unless I have clearance, happy sir," said the attendant, maintaining that wretched smile, "I have to charge you the normal ten dollars."
As he spoke with that raspy singsong voice, he danced in place, doing a basic three-step maneuver, flailing his arms over his head. A sway here, and a jungle thrust there: he might as well have been a dancing balloon strapped to a high-powered fan trying to encourage new drivers to enter here and forever lose their souls. Was this the future of customer service? Sammy grunted at the thought.
"Your sign says five dollars."
"That's a conditional fee, astutest of all astute sirs."
The attendant smiled and nodded. As his head bobbed, his hair flopped all over the place.
"On what?" Sammy asked.
"We charge five dollars for many cars, but we charge ten dollars for new, shiny cars with plush interiors. Not that we're prejudice here at the Happy Fun Land parking lot or anything. Certainly we're tolerant of all makes and models. But new cars encourage greater freedoms, and thus greater attention. It's an insurance thing, most indubitably."
"You are charging me ten dollars?"
The attendant swung his left arm in an arc and thrust his thumb up and smiled.
"Because my car is shiny?"
The attendant shuffled in place. This must've been how they said "yes" at Happy Fun Land.
Sammy the businessman looked past the gate and across the ground floor of the multileveled parking lot, hoping to find an empty spot close by. All he saw, however, were SUVs and vacant handicapped spots available. Figured. He sucked against the back of his teeth with his tongue. He could feel a piece of meat stuck between the center groove. One way or another he was getting in. Not that he wanted to, of course. But getting in was on the agenda.
"Get me your supervisor," he whispered.
"He's not here, delightful sir."
"Go find him then."
"I can't. He's in the South Pacific this weekend getting a rapturous tan."
Sammy glanced over his shoulder for a better look at the vehicles waiting behind him. He expected to hear the blares of horns by now, but they remained silent. Through their sparkling windshields he noticed the drivers' faces and their toothy smiles gleaming like rows of ecstasy pills. Sammy crossed his arms and focused on the parking attendant.
"Who is in charge right now?"
"I am, happy sir."
The attendant continued to dance. Sammy stroked the side of his vinyl steering wheel, trying to figure out what to do next. He looked to the passenger seat and noticed his Burger Ace bag folded over and lying on its side. If he had only skipped lunch, then this wouldn't have made him late. He focused on a point through the parking attendant's eyes and held his contemptuous gaze until he considered what he might do to rectify the wrong taking place. Once again, he sucked against his teeth.
"What are you doing?" he said.
"I'm doing fine, how 'bout you?"
Sammy paused again. He rolled his eyes.
"Give me your name tag," he said.
"What?" The parking attendant stopped his jig and flashed a glance at the brightly multicolored name tag pinned to his lapel. He slipped his spidery fingers and then his whole hand over it. "No…I mustn't."
"Give me the name tag, right now."
"No, I have to wear this. It's part of my job."
"Getting past this gate is part of my job." Sammy pounded his fist against the steering wheel. The whole dashboard vibrated under his power. "Give. Me. The. Name tag."
The attendant lowered his gaze at Sammy.
"Now, joyous sir, it appears you are losing your happiness. This can't be."
"I'm this close to losing more than my happiness. Give me your name tag."
The attendant shook his head.
"Sir, I don't understand why you want my name tag. My name tag is my identity. Would you have me lose my identity?"
Sammy had had enough of the back-and-forth. The attendant was not only threatening to commit robbery; he was committing an even greater injustice: wasting Sammy's time. So, Sammy did something he didn't think he'd ever have to do, here or anywhere. He flung the door open and lunged for the attendant's hand.
"Sir, what are you—"
"I said give me the name tag!"
After they swatted at each other for a few seconds, Sammy managed to pull the attendant's arm far enough away from his chest to rip the name tag off his jacket. As the pin tore a small hole in his uniform's lapel, the attendant screamed.
"Give that back! I have to wear it! It's Happy Fun Land policy!"
The parking attendant threw some weak, open-palmed punches to rattle Sammy's nerves, but Sammy blocked each one. He counteracted by removing a wrapped cheeseburger with pickles from the recyclable paper Burger Ace bag and shoved it in the attendant's face. The forced contact caused an explosion of bloody condiments to burst, and seconds later, ketchup dripped from his nose. The attendant stopped his resistance to wipe the crimson smear clean with the back of his hand.
"Why are you being so unhappy?" he said. "They told me ten dollars for shiny cars. It's our policy."
Sammy placed the name tag in his pocket.
"Maybe it's time to change policy. Don't charge people who come here on business."
"But it's Happy Fun Land. That's what we do. Don't take it out on me. Please. Give me back my name tag, I'm begging you."
The parking attendant got down on his knees and clasped his hands together.
"I have a wife and three cats to feed. I need my name tag back, please. I want them to be happy."
Sammy shoved his hand in the attendant's face and pushed him aside, getting ketchup residue on his fingers. The attendant wavered a bit but stopped from falling over. Sammy wiped the tomato smudge on the attendant's orange and yellow striped shirt.
"Maybe you should've thought of that before you wasted my time."
Sammy breathed a sigh of contempt as he looked at the line of cars building behind him. None of the faces he saw in the vehicles appeared upset. He scratched his forehead, then reached in the attendant's shack to push a green button. As the whisker-covered gate rose, Sammy climbed back into his polished black car and slammed the door shut. He drove through the open passage without incident.
As he drifted up the ramp and arced around the first turn, he pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. Taking the man's name tag in such an aggressive way was very unprofessional. There were better ways to handle the situation, up to and including a phone call to Happy Fun Land's corporate offices. This was no way to represent Dinners and Waters. He'd have to return the name tag to the attendant and apologize before he left the garage.
On the next flight up, Sammy nearly hit a costumed performer standing in the middle of the parking lot directing traffic with a pair of ice cream cones. The performer, who was dressed like a squirrel, was performing the same three-step dance that the parking attendant had performed. Sammy had to swerve to avoid him. The performer waved at Sammy as he slipped on by. Sammy's heart raced at the close call. Last thing he wanted was to run up Dinners and Waters's insurance bill, too.
After parking and getting out, he armed the theft deterrent system on his Windsnatcher luxury car with the press of a button. Once he heard the ba-beep from under the hood, he looked up in time to see the vehicles that were behind him slowly coast by. Smiles continued to glow at him through their blue-tinted windshields, and he couldn't figure out why. Surely the drivers were hit with the "conditional" parking fee. Did they sneak in behind him while the gate was up? Were they breathing carbon monoxide or completely void from reality? He stuffed his keys in his pocket, trying to cast away the thought. He never understood why anyone would come here voluntarily.
With the insanity behind him, Sammy strolled through the third floor of the parking garage to find the stairway down. His posture was stiff, but his feet were light. According to his watch, he was twelve minutes late, and he needed every ounce of composure he could manage in his sharp, tailored, gray Nomani suit to avoid making an issue of it. Lateness was the opposite of professional, and he was already annoyed with the potential business partner for this distraction.
A moment later, a car door closed behind him, just as car doors always did in parking garages. Then the sound of metal scraping cement came from a short distance behind him, and the noise scratched at his eardrums. He looked around to see the trembling-lipped parking attendant standing next to a blue Fort Temper. He waved a rod of metal rebar high over his head like a madman, distorting his mouth between a smile and an O.
Sammy's lower jaw hung as the parking attendant ran up to his Windsnatcher and brought the rod down with extreme force against the windshield. His adrenaline pumped hard as he ran back to watch the glass collapse in a crumpled mess and his car alarm shriek with massive decibel spoliation. Sammy reached out as he closed in, hoping to grab the attendant by the neck, but the attendant assumed a defensive stance with the rod pointing at him.
"I want back my name tag," he said, with an unexpected smile. "Give it to me now or you're next."
Sammy felt his insides burn with anger. How could this man do this to his car? And why was he still smiling? Sammy reached deep into his pocket and flung the name tag out like a cap flying off a plastic aspirin bottle. It hit the floor with an anticlimactic clack.
They looked at the fallen object and then at each other. The attendant kept an intense gaze on Sammy as he reached down to pick it up, pawing around until his fingers made contact. After widening his eyes and smiling a bigger smile, he stood up and carefully tried to pin the tag onto his lapel with one hand. He couldn't do it.
"I'll make a deal with you," said the attendant. "Since I'm such a happy person, I'll let you park here for free if you forget about the window."
Sammy, with the speed of lightning, reached out and grabbed the metal rod from the attendant's hand. With a quick continuous motion, he brought the rod up to a striking position. The attendant covered his face.
"Don't hit, don't hit!"
Sammy paused. His burst of unquenched anger tangled with reason. A split-second of mental processing revealed folly in his action. He was not a man who cared for folly. This was neither the time nor place for violence. In his line of work, violence was the enemy of professionalism. He threw the rod to the ground, its harsh clanging echo screaming with displeasure.
"Get a new job," he growled.
Sammy reached in his pocket and thumbed the button to deactivate his security system. All became silent again.
Mentally exhausted from the pointlessness of his battle, he turned around and walked away. He couldn't believe how close he had come to being unprofessional again.
Almost immediately he heard the earsplitting sound of a car horn in his ear and the cold, metal edge of a bumper pushing into the back of his thighs. Next thing he knew, he was on the hood of a car, then up against a windshield, staring at the side of the face of a driver who was looking and waving at something behind her. Just as the ground upended on itself and came smashing at his face, sending him to that inky black space that the unconscious always visits, Sammy saw whom the driver was waving at. That stupid squirrel was ten feet behind, waving back at her.
"Welcome to Happy Fun Land," the squirrel said in the darkness.