The items for sale could not be constrained to the shabby, split-level house’s garage, so the homeowner had erected six folding tables on her cracked cement driveway to display the overflow. Each folding table had a paper, hand-written sign taped to its front stating the flat price that applied to every item on that table. The cheapest table’s items were all two dollars. From there, the prices went up in fifty cent increments making the most expensive table’s items four dollars and fifty cents apiece. Connor couldn’t discern the logic of the pricing. All six tables contained nearly-identical looking heaps of stained t-shirts and battered paperback novels with their author’s names spelled out on their covers in the hugest raised fonts possible.
Besides Connor, there was only one other customer at the garage sale: a nearly hairless man in billowy clothing trying to haggle with the homeowner over the price of a can of old tennis balls. The homeowner was a woman in her fifties wearing a blue visor. She sat in her lawn chair, situated in the dark recesses of the back of her garage, as if she never intended to rise again. Beneath her chair was a lidless shoebox full of loose cash.
Connor examined a snow blower set just off the driveway in the brown grass. It was sitting next to a brown sectional sofa with a sign on it that said “Sold!! Sold!! Sold!!” The snow blower had a piece of masking tape stuck to it with “$80.00” written on it in red pen. It was probably a fair price for the snow blower, assuming it actually worked, but Connor was not at the garage sale to find quality items at fair prices. He was looking for a ridiculous deal. Why else would someone go to a garage sale?
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said Connor, walking into the shadowy garage and interrupting the homeowner’s repeated utterances of, “That’s as low as I’ll go, sir.”
The homeowner turned her eyes to Connor. “Yes?”
“Do you have any TVs for sale? Like, a 55-inch HD TV?”
“I’ve got four TVs for sale,” said the homeowner, pointing to four old, boxy TVs stacked on top of each other against the back wall of the garage. “Prices are marked, but I think the biggest one’s 40 bucks.”
Connor eyed the TVs from where he stood. He didn’t need a closer look. None of them were anywhere near 55 inches and they were certainly not capable of high definition picture quality. And 40 bucks was on the far end of Connor’s price range. He turned and left the garage, walking back out into the dull sunshine and down the sidewalk, hunched forward under the burden of his stress and frustration. Could all the rumors he’d heard of ridiculous garage sale deals have been false? Had the accounts of ten-dollar deep freezes and fifteen-dollar laptops been outright lies? The deals were out there, he felt sure. He just had to find one.
Connor had three roommates and they were all eleven years younger than him. Pat’s father owned the house, so Pat had the biggest bedroom and acted as a sort of on-site landlord, demanding to know who gouged the linoleum in the kitchen and hounding Connor, Markus, and Vin for their rent money every month, although he mostly just hounded Connor because Markus and Vin were Pat’s best friends, they all went to college together, and their parents always paid their share of the rent right on time whereas Connor was only in the house because Pat’s dad had insisted that the fourth bedroom be filled and Connor, needing a place to stay, had responded to the room-for-rent post he’d seen online and moved in at the beginning of June. Then, just three days later, Connor had lost his job at the nursing home, his savings had covered his rent only through July, and now, two full months behind, he had thrown Pat’s MegaMagnifique video game controller at Pat’s 55-inch HD TV in a fit of rage when Vin headshot him for the sixth consecutive round during a split-screen multiplayer game of Savagery Refined 2. So, in terms of having a place to live, Connor was hanging by a thread.
Pat had been willing to talk his dad into giving Connor a few extensions on his rent while he looked for a job, but after Connor broke his TV, Pat had become far less charitable. The ultimatum had been simple: Connor had two weeks to find somewhere else to live unless he replaced the TV. He had 68 dollars to his name.
Fourteen days had passed since Pat had delivered the ultimatum to Connor and Connor had taken no action. Today was the deadline and he had not looked for a new place to live nor had he looked for a replacement TV. Checking the final garage sales of the season for a ridiculous deal on a TV was Connor’s last-ditch attempt to keep his room. It was his only hope. And thus far, the garage sales Connor had visited had been nothing but discouraging.
But the deals were out there, he felt sure. He just had to find one.
Connor walked back to the house a little after noon for lunch. All three of his roommates were at class. If Connor ate a little bit of each of their food, he could almost patch together a full meal without any of them realizing they’d had anything stolen. As Connor approached the house on the sidewalk, he noticed that the gate leading into the wood-fenced back yard was standing partially open. He and his roommates rarely used the gate, typically entering and exiting the back yard through the sliding glass door in the kitchen. It was strange for the gate to be ajar. Something was very possibly amiss.
Connor walked over to the fence and peered through the open gate into the back yard. The gate wasn’t open far, but the small slice of yard that Connor could see appeared to be deserted. He put his hand on the gate, paused, and slowly swung it open. There, just beyond the edge of where Connor had previously been able to see, a man lay squirming and moaning in the grass, the stomach of his blue shirt soaked black. The man was wounded and in evident agony. The sun shining down through the tall trees in the back yard, their leaves just beginning to take on a yellow tinge, dappled the man’s body with patches of light and shadow.
Connor didn’t move. The man didn’t seem to have noticed him.
“Sir,” called Connor, not stepping through the gate. “Sir, just lie still! I’m calling an ambulance!”
The man stopped writhing and tried to sit up before crying out and collapsing flat on his back again. “I don’t need an ambulance. It’s too late for that.”
“I’ll call anyway,” said Connor. “In case you’re wrong.”
“I’m not wrong!” screamed the man with a sudden burst of energy. “Come over here,” he said in a calmer voice, but one that still made it clear that he’d scream again if the need arose. If, for example, Connor were to choose to not go to him.
For the first time since he’d moved into the house, Connor wished one or more of his roommates were home. He stepped into the yard and made his wary way over to the wounded man. He stopped just outside of striking distance in case the man tried to lash out at him.
“I’m going to give you something,” said the man. His face was gray and his thick hair was flesh-colored. He wasn’t big, but the way he lay in the grass made him seem heavy, dense. Both of his palms and the cuffs of his shirt were bloody from clutching his wound. The back of his right hand was blue and purple. It looked broken.
“Why are you in our yard?” asked Connor. “Do you know Pat’s dad?”
“Shut up,” said the man. “You’re gonna be the last person I see, so shut up.”
Connor bristled at the wounded man’s rudeness, but he kept his mouth shut.
“This is as far as I’m gonna make it. Take this.” The man opened his left hand and dropped a clump of black hair onto the grass before reaching into the front pocket of his pants, wincing horribly, and withdrawing a short length of red and black cord with two knots at one end and a tassel on the other. He held it out to Connor.
“What is it?” asked Connor.
“Take it,” said the man. “I’m obviously about to tell you what it is so take it.”
Connor took the cord, draping it over his palm so the knots hung over one side of his hand and the tassel hung over the other side. He held the cord up to eye level and examined the knots. They were incredibly intricate.
“He’s not taking this,” said the man. “Not this. I’d rather anyone have it except for him. Even you, whoever you are.”
“My name’s Connor.”
“I don’t care!” shouted the man. “I’m not wasting time by telling you my name, am I? Listen to me. Do you ever go to garage sales?”
Connor shivered and looked around the yard. There was no one else there. No one was watching. That he could see. “Why?” asked Connor. “Why do you ask that?”
The man didn’t seem to pick up on Connor’s increasing unease. Or else he didn’t care. “Maybe you do,” said the man. “Maybe you don’t. Either way, you’ve heard of the deals some people get. The insane deals. Valuable, brand new or barely used items for miniscule amounts of money. I know you have. And maybe you’ve wondered, ‘Where are these deals? Why can I never find them at the garage sales I go to?’”
“This is too strange,” said Connor. “This can’t be a coincidence.”
“Shut up!” shouted the man. “And listen! This cord opens those ridiculous deals to you. Do you understand? Now that I have passed the cord onto you, you have access to the kinds of ridiculous deals of which you’ve only ever heard rumors.”
“I need a TV,” said Connor. “A 55-inch HD TV. For, like, 30 bucks. By, like, tomorrow.”
The man wheezed. “With this cord, I’ve seen better TVs than that for less than 25. But that’s not the point. Not at all.”
“How does it work?” asked Connor, his voice hushed, almost reverent now.
“You look for the garage sales with a three-piece sectional sofa positioned in the grass on the right side of the driveway if you’re facing the garage. The sofa will have a sign pinned to it that says ‘sold’ three times. ‘Sold!! Sold!! Sold!!’ Like that. There will be two exclamation points after each ‘sold.’ Do you follow?”
“I think I was just at a garage sale that had one of those this afternoon!” said Connor.
The man nodded and coughed flecks of blood onto his chest. “Go back. Show the homeowner that cord and say ‘Reveal the Real Deals.’ The homeowner will nod once. You will remain silent for a full ten seconds. And then the deals will be revealed to you. All of the deals. The best deals you’ve ever seen.”
“I understand,” said Connor. “Sir, thank you.”
“Shut,” said the wounded man, but before he could say “up,” he’d transformed from a wounded man into a dead body.
As the paramedics loaded the dead body into the ambulance, Connor told the police that the man had been dead when he’d found him. The police bought it. They seemed to have their suspicions about how the man had sustained his wound, but they didn’t give Connor any clues. They obviously didn’t suspect him of knowing anything more than he told them. They were gone within half an hour.
And half an hour after that, Connor was back at the garage sale with the snow blower and the stack of four bad TVs and the brown sectional sofa. The homeowner still sat in her chair in the shadows at the back of the garage. There were no other people browsing the merchandise. The heaps on the six tables did not appear to have diminished in size in the slightest.
Clutching his inherited length of cord, Connor walked over to the sectional sofa on the grass on the right side of the driveway and examined the paper sign pinned to it. The word “Sold” three times, each time followed by two exclamation points, just as the wounded man had described.
Connor turned and walked into the garage.
The homeowner looked at him without recognition as he approached her. “Looking for something in particular?”
Connor held up the length of cord. The homeowner didn’t react in any way, which in itself was a telling reaction, Connor thought, because most people would have at least looked perplexed if they didn’t know what was going on. “Reveal the Real Deals,” said Connor.
The homeowner’s nod was almost imperceptible. Ten seconds of silence passed. And then, though the homeowner had not moved, the garage door began to descend. When it was completely closed, there was a dull, scraping sound and a square piece of the cement floor behind Connor slid open to reveal a passage down to a secret garage beneath the main garage. Connor looked at the homeowner but her face was stone. Connor stepped onto the first rung of the metal ladder affixed to the side of the opening and began to make his way down to the Real Deals. He was in. He was saved.
The secret garage was small, its walls were covered in artfully flaking brown paint, and it didn’t contain many items, but those items it had were of very high quality and unreasonably low price. There was a beautiful wedding dress for 3 dollars. There was an extremely rare baseball card for 75 cents. There was an Italian road bicycle that looked brand new for 12 dollars. The secret garage was lit by several expensive-looking lamps on expensive-looking end tables, but the lamps and the end tables were all for sale and none of them were expensive. In fact, they were all very, very cheap. But there were no TVs in the secret garage, HD or otherwise. The deals were incredible, there was no question, but Connor didn’t really want any of the items. It felt weird to not take advantage of deals this amazing, but he had a very specific mission in mind and he couldn’t afford to spend time or what little money he had acquiring items that wouldn’t help him keep his room in Pat’s dad’s house.
Connor stood at the base of the ladder and looked up the opening. All he could see was the ceiling of the main garage. “Ma’am?” he called. “So you don’t have any TVs down here? Or maybe one that you were going to put down here, but haven’t gotten around to?”
There was no answer.
“Ma’am?” Connor sighed and climbed the ladder. When he emerged from the opening, the square piece of the floor slid back into place and the garage door began to open again. The homeowner fanned herself with a menu from a family-style restaurant.
“Have a nice day,” she said as Connor left the garage empty-handed but for the small length of cord clutched in his fingers.
Connor decided to take the long way home. Pat would probably be there, unless he’d already come home and left again to go to the gym. Connor didn’t want to see Pat again until he absolutely had to. If he could just avoid crossing paths with Pat, maybe Connor could buy himself another day in which to try to acquire a 55-inch HD TV. If nothing else, it would at least mean another night in an indoor bed. As Connor walked, lost in thought, he passed several more garage sales. He could tell just by glancing at them that they were selling exclusively useless junk and none of them had brown sectional sofas placed just to the right of their driveways in their yards.
But then, still a good half of a block away, Connor caught sight of something in the yard of a squat, single-story brick house that could be a brown sectional sofa. As Connor increased his pace and drew closer, he saw that it was a brown sectional sofa and that it was placed on the correct side of the driveway and that it appeared to have a piece of white paper pinned to its center cushion. Connor broke into a run. When he saw the “Sold!! Sold!! Sold!!” written on the paper, he thought his heart might beat its way out of his chest and flop around on the sofa cushions, carrying on and making a mess.
This homeowner, a man in his late thirties wearing a white tank top, long denim shorts, and black leather shoes without socks, had set up his table all the way at the front of the garage, just inside the entrance. And this homeowner stood behind his table. He didn’t even have a chair. Connor strode up to the homeowner brandishing the small length of cord.
“I see it,” said the homeowner. “I can tell you’re excited. Say your line, go on.”
Connor paused, not sure if this was a violation of the proper procedure or not, but then he decided the wounded man hadn’t forbidden anything this homeowner had said or done yet, so it was probably fine.
“Reveal the Real Deals,” said Connor.
The homeowner gave him a giant, grinning nod. Ten seconds passed and the homeowner never stopped grinning and never broke eye contact.
“There!” said the homeowner. “Now let me show you to the secret garage. The deals I have for you right now are amazing, sir. Amazing.” He extended his hand as if Connor were to take it and allow himself to be led, but Connor couldn’t bring himself to take it. The homeowner looked a little hurt, but shrugged and said, “Follow me!” his tone still chipper.
Connor followed the homeowner into the garage and the man reached up and pulled the garage door closed manually. The garage door had windows and dust motes teemed in the rays of light streaming through them into the garage. The homeowner walked to the back of the garage and opened the door to what appeared to be a green, free-standing, metal coat closet. But then he pushed all the coats to one side to reveal a passage into a secret garage built onto the back of his garage. “I tell people it’s a room of the house that I had closed off ‘cause I found out a woman died in it,” said the homeowner. “But that’s not true. It’s a secret garage! After you.” He gestured for Connor to enter the secret garage.
Connor found himself wishing for the previous homeowner’s more hands-off approach to this arrangement, but nonetheless, he ducked his head under the rod in the coat closet and stepped into the secret garage. It was bigger than the other one he’d been in that day and more tightly packed with items.
The homeowner stepped into the secret garage behind Connor and said, “Well, there you go. Those are the Real Deals. Take your time. There are some Real Deals in here. Like, more so than most Real Deals you’re gonna find anywhere. Look around.”
Connor scanned the items for a TV. He didn’t see one. “Do you have any HD TVs in here?” asked Connor. “I don’t see one.”
“Nope,” said the homeowner. “Not today.”
Connor felt like he might cry. “But that’s all I need. That’s it.”
“Whoa, whoa,” said the homeowner, his smile drying up. “You’re shopping at garage sales for something you need?”
“Yeah,” said Connor. “A 55-inch HD TV. Otherwise I’ll get evicted and I’ll be homeless.”
The homeowner crossed his arms across his chest and took a step back. “That is not how this works. That is not how this is done.” His expression had become forbidding.
“What?” Connor didn’t understand the homeowner’s change in tone.
“You don’t shop at garage sales for things you need,” said the homeowner. “You don’t even shop at garage sales for things that you know you want. You shop at garage sales because you love the deals. Right?”
Connor didn’t answer.
“I mean,” said the homeowner, his tone crossing the line between forbidding and menacing. “Why else would you have that cord? If not for the fact that you’re a man who loves deals? Real Deals?”
“I do,” said Connor. “I love deals. That’s what I’m here for. I was just…hoping for a TV.”
“Well,” said the man, breaking back into a friendly smile. “No TVs here. But there are plenty of deals to be had. So take your time!”
The afternoon had grown chilly. Connor zipped up his new coat as he walked home. The coat was a Brilmwer, probably between four and five hundred dollars new. Connor had gotten it for six dollars and it fit him almost perfectly. A Real Deal indeed.
Connor’s roommates’ cars were lined up in the driveway in their usual spots. He couldn’t bring himself to go inside. Not yet. He walked a little farther down the sidewalk so he could look through the front window to see if Pat was in the living room. If he wasn’t, Connor could potentially sneak to his room unseen, keep the lights off, and hide out for one more night, at least. But as Connor shuffled sideways down the sidewalk, trying to see through the window without being seen himself, he again caught sight of the gate leading through the fence to the back yard. He’d been certain he’d closed it behind him when he’d left, but it was ajar again. Had one of his roommates used it? It didn’t seem likely.
What if the wounded man was back? That was impossible. That man, whoever he’d been, was dead. Connor, if for no other reason than to delay going inside to face Pat, walked over to the gate and peered through the opening. There, in the back yard, was a lean, dark-haired man crouching in the grass holding a pistol in his right hand. With his left hand he held a blue ice pack to his forehead. A leash was looped around his left wrist and on the other end of the leash was a shaggy, reddish dog lying on its stomach and sniffing the grass in the very spot where Connor had found the wounded man. At the same moment that Connor saw the man and the dog, the dog’s ears perked up and it looked straight at Connor and growled as it rose to its feet. The man stood up and pointed his gun at Connor. “Come into the yard,” he said, his voice faint but stern.
Connor stepped into the yard.
“Come closer,” said the man. “You know what this is about. As soon as I came to, we tracked him here. Followed the scent of his blood trail. He’s gone now, but I don’t believe he took it with him. It’s you, isn’t it? You have it?”
“I know what this is about,” said Connor, making his way closer to the man with his hands raised palms-out in front of him.
“Of course you do,” said the man. “You can’t afford a coat like that even at conventional garage sale prices.”
“I didn’t even want the coat,” said Connor.
“Want?” The man scoffed. “What you want is a deal. That’s all. A Real Deal.”
“No,” said Connor. “I want a TV. A 55-inch HD TV. But, no, what I want is different roommates. No! A place of my own. To live. That’s what I want. A job. A girlfriend. That’s what I want.”
“See?” said the man. “You don’t deserve it. Hand it over.”
Connor reached into the pocket of his Brilmwer coat and pulled out the short length of cord with the two knots at one end and the tassel at the other. From up close, Connor could see the edge of a giant bruise beneath the man’s ice pack and a white patch of skin on the right side of the man’s head just above his ear where he was missing a chunk of hair.
“Give it to the dog,” said the man. “My hands are full.”
Connor bent down and extended the length of cord to the dog, holding it out in front of its nose. The dog took the cord gently in its teeth and then, without another word, the man and the dog left the yard through the gate.
Pat, Markus, and Vin were all in the living room on their separate laptops. Pat was the only one who looked up when Connor came into the room.
“Nice coat,” said Pat. “Where’s my TV?”
“There weren’t any,” said Connor.
Pat turned his gaze back to his laptop screen, already done with this conversation. “Then I hope you’ve got somewhere to go tonight. ‘Cause you don’t live here anymore. I guess that shouldn’t be a problem for a guy who can afford a coat like that, though.”
“I got a deal,” said Connor. “A ridiculous deal.”
“Cool,” said Pat. “Good for you.”
It was the response of a young man who would never, throughout the course of his entire life, know the distinctive taste of a Real Deal. Nor would he miss it. He was too secure to care.
As Connor went to his room to pack his clothes and books into his two giant suitcases, he thought about Multioak’s secret garages, wondering how many were out there hiding their incredible deals from all but the select few, offering pure aesthetics beneath a veneer of practicality, the illusion of extraordinary assistance, the seductive thrill of wishes on the very verge of being granted.
That night Connor slept on the ground in the park. He lay down between his suitcases and, as the night grew cold, he was pleased with the warmth of his new coat. It would have been a spectacular deal at three times the price.