Greener by Heath Lowrance

Serg came over from, I dunno, Russia or some Eastern European place with a name you can’t pronounce. He came over and got himself a good job at GoodLawn Inc, spraying fert and weed killer, and for all I know he sent his parents money every week. He made good, is what he did. And it was all the more impressive with Serg because he was a midget. A dwarf. You know, whatever you call them now– little person? Let’s go with dwarf, because I can’t help but think that, if I was one of them, I’d get pissed if someone called me a ‘little person’, wouldn’t you? Sounds kind of condescending.

But anyway, Serg, yeah. He was a dwarf, and he was from let’s say Russia and he worked for GoodLawn.

And he was a surly little bastard.

New customers would always call in and bitch about him because he would actually tell them their grass looked like shit and it would be a miracle if he could make it look good. But the customers who stuck around eventually learned to love the little fucker because he did good work and he never lied to them. They’d call and say hey, that little guy you got working for you, he’s a dick but he’s awesome.

By late spring of last year Serg had staked out a great territory for himself. Everyone’s grass was lush and green and weed-free, and they all turned on their neighbors to our company and next thing you know Serg is doing something like 70 percent of the lawns on that side of town. There was even a three block radius where he did literally every single property. It was crazy, but good for Serg and good for GoodLawn.

He wasn’t in that area, though, when all the shit started with those fuckers over at GreenWay.

Serg was in a new sub a few miles north. New subs are always a bitch because the developers just throw up a bunch of identical houses and surround them with clay-y soil and slap a layer of sod down and hope for the best. It’s hard to get the grass to develop any kind of root system. But Serg was making it work.

He’d pulled up in the driveway of a nice brick Tudor, lush green expanse of lawn flanked by a couple well-tended weeping cherries. Pulled the hose out, started toward the back of the property to look for weeds and what-not, when another truck came rumbling up the street and caught his attention.

It was a GreenWay rig, photo of some kids playing in the grass along the sides, the logo “GreenWay: the Right Way for your Lawn” underneath. Serg stopped with the hose in his hand, watched as the GreenWay truck pulled up in front of the house directly across the street. The tech, a jaunty-looking young guy in an immaculate uniform, hopped out, went around the side and started to pull out his fert spreader.

What the fuck is this? Serg was thinking. Who the fuck is this guy and what’s he doing on MY street?

The GreenWay guy noticed Serg standing there, staring at him. He stopped too, and they stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, the GreenWay guy said, “Hey, little man. How’s it goin’?”

One thing you don’t do, you don’t call Serg ’little man’. Serg glared at him, yanked his hose hard, and started toward the rear of his property. He wasn’t sure, but he thought maybe the GreenWay guy was laughing, very softly.

Two days later, in another part of town, Serg saw another GreenWay truck, doing the lawn right next door to one of his. It was a different tech, older, a little chunkier, but just as clean-cut. He was halfway through doing a fert spread when Serg pulled up.

Serg sat in his cab for a minute, watching, anger seething around in his gut. Who the fuck did these assholes think they were? This was a GoodLawn town, right down every street and cul-de-sac. It was a Serg town. So he sat there, furious, watching the GreenWay guy walk back and forth with his spreader, granules of gray fert arcing around him.

The GreenWay guy came around to the side nearest him, and some of his fert flew over into Serg’s customer’s lawn.

Serg jumped out of his truck.

“Hey!” he said. “Hey, dickweed!”

The guy stopped, switching a lever that kept his fert from pouring out. He turned to Serg and didn’t say anything.

“Watch your fert,” Serg said. “You got it all over my people’s grass. You’re too sloppy.”

The guy cocked his head, glanced over at Serg’s lawn. He scratched his neck and smiled and said, “Well, no worries. Looks like it could use some fert anyway, huh? Should be a lot greener by this time of year.”

Serg looked at his lawn, saw only full green grass, healthy and thick and not a weed in sight. He turned back to the GreenWay guy, said, “What, you crazy? This grass is beautiful.”

The guy snorted. “Yeah. If you say so, little guy.”

Serg balled his fists up. “You don’t call me that. You don’t call me that.”

“Okay, okay, take it easy. I’m just saying–”

“You watch your fert. You don’t get none on my people’s grass, you hear me? And you don’t call me ’little guy’.”

And Serg stormed back to his truck to grab his hose.

That night, he reported the incident to Eddie, the production supervisor. Eddie in turn reported it to the branch manager, who called the regional V.P. Apparently, Serg wasn’t the only tech who’d had some trouble recently with the sudden arrival of the GreenWay people.

The very next day, Serg was in his area, the one where he did every single lawn on the street. GreenWay was the last thing he was thinking about. Almost eight in the morning, he pulled up at the curb at his first stop, whistling, got out of his truck and started to go around back for the hose.

In the driveway, a GreenWay truck was rumbling, and the tech was just putting his spreader away.

Serg looked at the truck, uncomprehending. He looked at the lawn. The little GreenWay flag stuck out of the grass near the mailbox, right there for everyone to see.

He looked back at the truck.

The GreenWay tech had put away the spreader and was now grinning at Serg, hands on his hips. It was the young guy Serg had seen the other day. He said, “Hey, buddy.”

Serg said, “What… what are you doing? This is my customer.”

The guy shook his head. “Not anymore. This is a GreenWay lawn now.”

“The hell you say.”

“We under-priced you, little guy. Our crack sales team called, offered to do the job for five bucks less than you.” Then, “Didn’t the customer call you to cancel? Geez, rough break, huh?”

Serg grimaced. “They no call to cancel, because they are MY customer. Mine. You don’t do this lawn, you fucker!”

The guy laughed. “You’re funny when you’re mad. But listen, no hard feelings. So you lost a customer, big deal. There’s always the one next door, right?” He paused, a look of mock alarm on his face, and said, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s not right. There isn’t the one next door, because now GreenWay does them, too. I almost forgot, silly me. Oh, and the one across the street from that, and five others just on this block.”

Serg’s face was turning red with rage and his little fists were clenched.

The guy said, “But I think there’s two or three at the far end of this street that you still do. Maybe you should get to them, huh?”

Serg said, “Fucker!” and jumped the guy.

He got him around the midsection– which, honestly, was about as high as Serg was likely to get anyone– and they both went down on the cool, green grass, punching and kicking.

Like I said before, Serg is little but he’s a tough bastard. In seconds, he’d bloodied the guy’s nose under a relentless barrage of punches, and the guy was clawing to get away. He managed to kick himself out from under Serg, scrambled to his feet, and dashed for his truck.

Serg let him go, watched as the GreenWay truck backed out of the driveway too fast, beep-beep-beeping, and then the guy slammed it in gear and drove off as fast as his rig would allow.

Serg went to his truck and called it in.

We had a branch-wide meeting the next morning, all the techs and management and even us office people. Our Regional President of Operations reigned over it, along with a couple well-dressed guys from the corporate office out of state.

“Right across the board,” the Regional Prez said, “GreenWay has been cutting into our profits with under-handed sales techniques and inferior products. Areas that have traditionally been aligned with GoodLawn are now falling away from us. It’s been discussed at Region Headquarters and been determined that drastic steps must be taken.”

He outlined for us how, over the last two weeks, GreenWay had undercut us on pricing in a major promotional campaign and had even gone so far as to slander our company’s good name. They’d sent out flyers. They’d done cold calling. And then he had the wide-screen wheeled out and showed us the clincher—a new television spot that was ready to debut in a few days.

The commercial shows a crap-looking lawn, and a tech in a uniform that looks suspiciously like a GoodLawn uniform, except sloppy beyond all belief. As the camera pans over the disaster of grass and up to the tech, whistling carelessly as he drags a hose around, a woman steps up to him from out of nowhere (we can only assume she was on her porch watching him) and says something like “My lawn looks awful!” and the faux-GoodLawn guy drops his hose on her rose bushes and grins. “No worries,” he says unconvincingly. “The whole street looks awful.” And the woman says, “But your company does this whole street!” to which the tech replies, “Oh. My bad,” and chuckles shamefully.

Everyone in the conference room is looking at Serg. His fists are clenched and his face is red with rage. Because the worst part of this commercial: the faux-GoodLawn guy is a dwarf with more than a passing resemblance to him.

The spot ends with a GreenWay truck showing up and saving the day, booting the little guy off the property. The GreenWay guy sprays the lawn and –voila!—it’s suddenly lush and green, as if the hose is some kind of magic wand. The woman stands in her unbelievably gorgeous lawn, beaming, and says, “Thank you, GreenWay!” and the GreenWay tech winks at the camera and the voice-over says, “GreenWay. The right way for your lawn.”

The last shot in the commercial is of the little guy, driving off in his truck, shaking his little fist out the window at his vanquishers.

The Regional Prez shut off the tape and gave it a moment to sink in. We all just sort of sat there, not sure what to say.

Finally, he said, “Our sources tell us that next Friday night, GreenWay will be doing a major fert and weed control job at Big Horn Stadium. They scheduled it for night because doing it during the day would be impractical.”

Someone said, “Big Horn Stadium? But that’s OUR account.”

“Not anymore. They under-priced us. The point is, it’s a big job and they’ll have almost their entire fleet there. Twelve trucks, twelve techs, working over-time through the night. This will be our only chance to nip this and get our company back on more secure footing. Because, folks… GreenWay is the Wrong Way.”

So it was decided at a corporate level. This was war.

It took four days to get our trucks outfitted with special gear, at tremendous expense. Calls and e-mails were still shooting back and forth like crazy and even the shareholders stopped in briefly to work out some details with our branch manager. They sent for a specialist in the new gear and all our techs had a crash course that none of us in the office were allowed to attend. By Friday afternoon everything was ready to roll.

Some of the office folks were assigned to ride-along, and I got Serg. That was cool. Serg and I always got along pretty well. We stayed late at the office and at ten PM we set off.

Fifteen GoodLawn trucks left the warehouse, a convoy of green and white, and headed for Big Horn Stadium.

Because it used to be our account, we knew how to get inside—the wide metal receiving door at the rear of the stadium. We rolled through the huge parking lot, our line of specially-outfitted trucks. Even from the lot entrance, which was a good two hundred yards from the building, we could see the kreig-lights burning over the open top of the place.

Our convoy drove slowly to the rear, led by Eddie, our production supervisor, in his company pick-up truck. When he stopped, the whole line came to a halt. He jumped out of his truck, trotted up to the receiving door and unlocked it. We didn’t have the account anymore, but the owners of Big Horn Stadium hadn’t yet confiscated their security keys.

When the door was open, Eddie flashed us all the thumbs-up, jumped back in his truck, and started through. We all followed.

The GreenWay fuckers were already working, all twelve of their trucks lined up at the far end of the field. Most of the techs were spraying weed control out of backpacks, but a few were walking the perimeter with fert spreaders. They all looked up in surprise when our trucks rumbled in.

Our line drove right to the middle of the field as they watched in confusion. All their work stopped.

When our trucks formed a barricade, right sides facing the enemy, all our guys got out and headed for the rear of their vehicles. Serg was chuckling dangerously. I followed him as he scrambled around to the back.

One of the GreenWay guys, a supervisor I guess, started toward us across the field. All our guys were opening their rear doors and pulling hoses. The GreenWay guy shouted across at us, “Hey! What the hell do you people think you’re doing?”

No one answered him. Serg had his hose pulled and I noticed that the nozzle looked different. I said, “Serg. What’s up with the hose?”

Serg grinned at me. “Triple-line settings,” he said. “Fert, weed control, and death!”

He took a step forward, aimed his hose at the GreenWay guy, and squeezed the trigger.

It was no fert coming out of that hose, not unless fert suddenly came in the form of nine millimeter bullets. The GreenWay guy stopped in his tracks as lead pounded into him, riddling his body, and blood blossomed like red weeds all over his immaculate uniform. He was dead before he even fell.

It took the other GreenWay guys a moment to process what had happened and by that time all the GoodLawn techs had their hoses pulled and had begun spraying bullets.

It was over in minutes. Twelve GreenWay techs were dead, their days of stealing business and slandering good company names over. The bodies were loaded into several trucks and the ride-along people, like me, got behind the wheels of their vehicles and pulled out behind the others.

Some of our techs stayed behind and finished the fert and weed control at Big Horn Stadium.

The GreenWay trucks were eventually repainted and are now GoodLawn trucks.

And the bodies?

Well, you know, dead bodies make terrific fertilizer. We spent a good amount of that Friday night, after we got back to the branch, digging up our front lawn.

This was last spring, as I said before. These days, GoodLawn customers have the best-looking lawns in town. And the grass in front of our own building is so lush and green it could make you cry from the beauty of it.

Heath Lowrance’s first novel, The Bastard Hand, will be available from New Pulp Press on March 20. His short fiction has appeared in Chi-Zine, Necrotic Tissue, The Nautilus Engine, Well-Told Tales and other print and web-zines. He lives in Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten.

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