Featured

Metal Memento

I pulled my ringing phone from my pocket and checked it- Glew. I flipped it open. “What’s up, killer?”

Glew took a few breaths. “Hey, stud. I need your…assistance.”

“Shoot.”

He took a long breath. “A client of mine has a pest. This guy has stolen two packages off her porch. I swung by a while ago and watched it for her since she’s at work. I had a Nutty Buddy. You know, I think they’re making them bigger these days. They usually leave me feeling a bit-”

“Glew. What about the thief?”

Glew coughed. “Oh right. He just ripped off two packages I put there. Now she’s missing an I-pad and an Elvis Presley painting that he swiped two days ago. The idiot hit the same house in the same week. I’m on his tail on the highway. Gear up and call me back.”

“You got it.”

I hung up my phone and locked up my shop and house. I filled my thermos with coffee and jumped into my car. I called him back twenty minutes later and caught up to him. When he pulled into the driveway located one house up from the thief’s, I pulled onto the shoulder of the road and climbed out with my phone pressed to my ear. “All right. I’m circling around back. Just give me five minutes.”

Glew said, “Work your magic. He’s too busy putting up his loot to pay us attention just yet.”

The neighbor’s house sat vacant as far as I could tell. So I cut through their yard and pressed my back up to the side wall of the thief’s house. I hunkered down near the corner.

Glew pulled into his driveway ten minutes later. He sported a pair of coveralls and removed a seeder from his trunk. Then he pulled a baseball cap on his head with the words “Lonny Lawn Service” adorned on the front. After placing ear buds into his ears, he made three rows across the yard with the seeder before the thief stepped out of his house. He yelled, “Hey! What are you doing here?”

Glew kept at his seeding. The front door closed. I took a look at the neighbor’s house. A woman who looked around sixty watered a plant in the backyard. “Damn it.”

The thief came back out and walked onto the lawn. Glew kept at his seeding like nothing else in the world mattered. The thief looked back at the house. When he turned back toward Glew, I jumped over the porch rail and crept inside.

The living room looked standard- flat screen TV, sofa, love seat, a few pictures on the walls. He’d already stashed the loot somewhere out of sight. I peered through the window. The thief shook his head while Glew spoke to him. I darted into the hallway. A twin bed sat in the first bedroom. I checked the closet but found nothing. I slipped out.

In the second bedroom, I checked the closet and found two large brown packages. Right there on the floor beside them, the Elvis painting leaned against the wall while the I-pad lay on the floor, still in the box. I scooped them all up and crept out of the room.

One peek out the door revealed the thief pointing ahead while Glew scratched his head with his jaw gone slack. Sometimes Glew played the idiot part with too much conviction.

I rushed into the kitchen on to the dining room where I found the biggest window in the house. I slid it open and tossed the packages outside. Then I eased myself down and closed the window. I picked up the packages and stepped around to the side of the house where I bent down low, watching Glew still argue with the thief whose voice reached higher levels. “If you don’t leave, I don’t want to call the police. I don’t want to do it, man, but you best go now before I change my mind.”

Glew scratched his head. “Aw, you wouldn’t do that to me. Would you?”

The thief stood shorter than Glew but he squared up to him and pointed his finger in his face. “Get your ass off my lawn!”

Glew looked my way as he bent down and picked up his seeder. Then he turned his cap around to where it sat backwards on his head and got back in the guy’s face. “I’m going to take my business elsewhere, bub!”

A laugh escaped me. “Damn you, Glew.” A look toward the neighbor’s house choked me. The old woman pointed at me. She yelled but I couldn’t hear her. Damn, lady. Not now.

Glew loaded his seeder back into his trunk. The thief marched back into his house. When Glew turned on his ignition, I bolted across the neighbor’s lawn. By the time I got the packages loaded into my back seat, the little old woman made it to her front porch, pointing at me and yelling “Timothy! Timothy!” When I took off down the road in front of the thief or “Timothy’s”, house, he sprung onto the front porch, looking around. He looked over at the old woman and then at my car. He yelled at me and then ran back into his house while I pulled on down the road and turned left.

Glew pulled over a few streets down. I stopped and got out of my car. Glew popped his trunk. I moved the packages to Glew’s trunk and rapped on the fender. Glew took off. Then I popped my own trunk and removed the spare and the tire jack. I had the jack up under the car and the tire raised up off the ground when Timothy’s truck stopped behind me.

When Timothy reached me, I waved a hand. “Thank you, friend, but I’ve got this under control.”

Timothy spat at me when he said, “Where’s my shit?”

I picked up my tire iron and stood. After a twenty-second stare, Timothy averted his eyes. He took a few steps toward his truck and then peered back at me, squinting. I stared back at him until he found his way back into his truck and drove away.

After tossing the tire and tools back into my trunk, I took off down the road and called up Glew. “Howdy, partner. Looks like another job well done.”

Glew sighed. “I wish it was so, stud.”

“Damn. What is it?”

I stopped at a red light.

Glew said, “It turns out that she wanted a particular item back. A watch that her father gave her when she was a kid.”

“Aw now, Glew-”

“He gave it to her before he departed for Iraq. He never made it back.”

I sighed. A horn blew behind me. I took off in time to make the yellow light with the driver behind me stuck back there. I said, “We’ll wait a month and then hit him again.”

Glew said, “Looks like she needs it back by this weekend. Her mother’s visiting and it would break her heart to see that she didn’t still have it. And she will ask about it. She only visits now and then. In fact, she’s thinking her mom might have bad news.”

I said, “That’s a lot of conjecture.”

“I know it’s ridiculous, Fairfax. But we have done stuff like this before. What do you think?”

I scoffed. “Give me an hour. I’ll think of something.”

Night fell over Timothy’s house. I didn’t see any cop cars pull up or lingering around. The old lady neighbor might call a cop but Timothy wouldn’t. In fact, his truck did not sit in the driveway. Still, she could have called and warned the police and given them my description. A cruiser could be rolling around as we speak. I rode with Glew this time. He said, “I did a little digging. Timothy is Tim Moore. His folks ran a renovating business for years before retiring to Florida. Tim worked with them here and there but more or less seems content with doing nothing, along with the occasional theft. Maybe mommy and daddy are sending smaller checks these days.”

“Wow.”

He said, “Yeah. At least we’ve got the darkness covering us this time.”

I said, “If darkness doesn’t cover us, we always find it.”

Glew chuckled.

I said, “Circle around but don’t go far.”

“No, sir. I’m going to play interference. That old lady next door could be a problem.”

I said, “You know…I think you’re right. I’ll be up by that bush when I’m done.”

“You got it, stud. Should be out of there within an hour.”

I stepped out of Glew’s car, pulled on my mask and gloves and walked to Tim’s house. His gravel driveway sat empty. With no lights on inside, I figured that I could do as I pleased. However, I stepped around to each window first. Even a determined fellow can get bored enough to play on his phone and phones light up. After peering through every window, I saw nothing.

I removed my pick set from my belt and picked the back door lock with no trouble. I crept onto the third bedroom. Then I pulled out my own phone and cast the light across the floor. I searched the closet and then under the bed- nothing.

I returned to the living room where I looked under the sofa and the love seat and then I searched through his china cabinet. Still, I didn’t see anything.

In the kitchen, I searched through the cabinets and the pantry and then up under the sink as well. I’d been inside for fifteen minutes and turned up squat. So I eased the attic door down. I climbed the stairs but I paused at the top of them. A look outside revealed nothing. So I climbed on up. The attic sat as bare as the day he moved in. I shined my flashlight across the plywood slats all the way to the ends of the roof. This fellow sure knew how to hide a watch. That is, if he even still had the thing. He could have moved it by now without any problem. I climbed back down and eased the door on up. I leaned on the hall wall. Then I pulled my mask from my face and drew in a deep breath. I shifted my weight a bit. Then I felt it.

A bump protruded from the hall wall. A tiny imperfection in the drywall let me know all I needed to know. After all, Tim had a background in renovation. I removed a wallboard saw from my belt and felt around near the bump. I sawed through the wall until I formed a five inch by five inch square. I pried the mesh out and reached inside the hole. When I pulled the object out, I shined the phone light on it-the watch.

Plop.

I slipped the watch into my jacket pocket and bent over. I picked up a necklace from the floor there. A diamond dangled from it. This piece could bring a grand with ease. He went to all the trouble to hiding these but why? He could have moved them by now, I would think.

I slipped the necklace into my jean pocket and then slipped out the back door. Before I pulled it all the way to, the old woman’s voice creaked. “That’s right. Walk yourself right to us, young man.”

I turned. The old neighbor stood there with a revolver aimed at my stomach. Tim held Glew’s arm twisted up behind him. The old lady said, “Now you step yourself back inside, boy. You two have got yourself a heap of trouble now.”

Tim shoved Glew toward me. “They sure do, Aunt Rosa.”

Rosa said, “Get inside now!”

I stepped back into the kitchen. Glew followed behind me, whispering, “Sorry.”

I patted his back and stepped into the living room. Rosa said, “Uh-huh. Don’t you go any further than that. Turn on the light, Timothy.”

Tim did as she ordered. I stood there in the living room with my black mask covering my face and black gloves covering my hands but I’d never felt so naked. I said, “What’s the plan?”

Aunt Rosa took a seat at the dining table, keeping the revolver aimed at Glew. Tim crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall. “Look at you two now.”

Rosa lit a cigarette. “Show us what else you planned to steal off us.”

I said, “I didn’t-”

She aimed the revolver at my groin. “Just do as you’re told, young man.”

I swallowed. Then I blinked a few times. After a sigh, I removed the watch from my jacket pocket. Rosa snapped her fingers. Tim snatched the watch from my hand and gave it to her. Rosa examined the watch. “Oh my. This is a nice piece. You’re such a good boy, Timothy.”

I said, “This is a surprise. I thought you might call the police on me.”

Rosa chuckled and shook her head. “Shiiiiiiiiiiiiett.”

Glew and I shared a laugh. Tim’s smile faded. Rosa waved a hand. “The only time I called the law, that boy they sent out just tried to interrogate my bloomers. Law ain’t no law.”

She handed the watch back over to Tim. Then she smiled at me. “Now, young man. Give me the other thing you took.”

I opened my mouth.

She said, “Don’t give me that. There’s always something else. What else did you lift?”

Glew swallowed. I shrugged and removed the necklace. When I handed it over, Rosa paused. Tim brought his hands out of his pockets but he didn’t get any further, like a man walking through the arctic who’s just figured out he’s now frozen. Rosa stamped out her cigarette and clasped the necklace to her chest. She turned to Tim. “Timothy…oh Timothy…”

Tim said, “Aunt Rosa, I was keeping it safe. It was just-”

She set the revolver on the table. Then she peered at me and winked. I winked back. She smiled so big that I could swear twenty years left her face. A few seconds later, she gripped the necklace and the years all came back. She said, “You boys get on down the road.”

Tim said, “What? No way.”

He reached for the revolver but Rosa grabbed it first. “Go to your room, Timothy.”

“Aunt Rosa-”

She aimed the revolver at his foot. “Get to your room, boy. I won’t repeat it with words.”

Tim wore that same look from earlier in the day, like he wanted to do something but he knew he faced an opponent he would not defeat. With his head hung, he walked to the last bedroom and shut the door.

Aunt Rosa picked up the watch and held it in the air. “Give this back to whatever poor heart he broke.”

I walked by and grabbed the watch. When Glew and I reached the back door, she said, “Don’t you ever come back around here.”

We both said, “No, ma’am.”

In less than an hour, we reached Glew’s client’s house. She didn’t mind having late visitors. She still wore a shirt and jeans and smoky circles around her eyes. When we gave her the watch, she jumped and gave us each a kiss on the jaw accompanied with huge hugs.

She said, “Oh you men. You’re the best. But you can’t know how much a metal memento means to a lady.”

Glew said, “Well, um…”

I said, “Oh, ma’am. I’m pretty sure we do know.”

Featured

The Green Storm

Shawn Tanner showed up to the party with his green hat on and without question, some illegal substances flooding his veins. After a year in the county lock-up, one could feel for the guy. After digging up how he put his girlfriend in the hospital for three weeks before going in, sympathy becomes a bit more difficult. Glew installed motion cameras in each of the four bedrooms of the party house. Shawn had to cut loose like an Irishman. After all, Saint Patrick’s Day brings that out in people. Everyone could be Irish for one night.

Glew sent me a text message that indicated Shawn chose to take his pleasure in the back bedroom upstairs. I already had the ladder set up leading to the back window. Call it the luck of the Irish. I climbed my way to the window and slid it open.

Between the punk rock music and the disco ball, Shawn didn’t notice me. He salivated over the girl who lay on the bed. His friend kept the door cracked, watching the hallway. His other friend undressed her. The girl slept with her head turned to one side and her arms spread out. Green ribbons held her wrists in place. The doorman smiled at Shawn but Shawn kept his eyes on the girl and his hand down his pants. The other friend slid the last of her clothes off and then bound her ankles to the other bed posts. I drew a breath, leaned back and then dove into the bedroom.

When I rolled to a standing position, the friend on the bed turned around in slow motion as if he saw a friendly ghost who he could engage in a deep conversation about life and death. I nailed him on the jaw with a right hand. He dropped to the floor in a heap.

The doorman lunged at me. I ducked his right handed shot and then drilled his gut with a left uppercut. He stumbled but grabbed onto me. So I tossed him into the wall. Shawn slipped out of the room like a man on parole leaving a crack den. The doorman jumped into me but I made light steps backward until he fell to his knees where I drilled him with a right hand to the chin. I shoved him into the closet. After pushing a recliner against the closet door, I bolted out of the room.

Glew held onto Shawn’s ankle who kicked at him. A trickle of blood oozed at Glew’s right nostril. He’d tried to take him down himself, poor guy. I ran toward them. Shawn peered back at me and then kicked Glew’s hand away and ran downstairs into a crowd of green hats. His own hat fell off, revealing his shaved head. I knelt beside Glew. “You all right?”

He leaned up and dabbed at his nose. “I’ll make it…I mean, yeah…I’ll make it, stud…”

“The girl’s tied up in there. Go set her free.”

I helped him to his feet. He patted my shoulder. “You got it.”

I ran downstairs. Shawn caught sight of me and bolted through the patio door. I followed him out there until we got to the center of the backyard. Shawn stopped and turned toward me. I stopped. He shouted, “Hey, guys! Hey, guys! Who wants to see a fight!?!”

A sea of green hats and clover shirts turned toward me. A few guys yelled, “Yeah!!”

Shawn cupped his hands over his mouth. “Who wants to see me fight this guy?”

Everyone cheered and raised their green solo cups into the air. I shook my head. Shawn said, “What? You backing down?”

I shrugged and stepped toward him with a pawing jab. Shawn circled me with leopard speed. When I turned, he caught me with a quick right. I threw a wild right in return but missed. I stepped toward him, tasting my own blood. Shawn ventured a left up high. I swung a right hand over the top and caught him but he fired back with his own straight right hand.

Bop!

The blow caught me in my eye. I reached out for his arms but he kicked my shin and then pivoted and kicked my calf. I stumbled. He dug a right uppercut into my gut. I grabbed his arm but he wrestled free of my grip. I shot a few jabs and then another right hand. Shawn backed his way out of range.

The beer-fueled crowd roared at us. One fellow there yelled for Shawn to kick my rear end. A heavy red beard protruded from his face. Glew pointed him out to me earlier. This fellow had one sister- the girl upstairs.

Shawn caught me with a quick jab. I retaliated with a right cross. He stumbled. So I drove a left hook into his gut. He doubled over. I kneed him in the face. Shawn fell back against the crowd. I stalked him but a few fellows got in between us. The red-bearded fellow pointed at me. “You stand your ass back. Who are you anyway?”

I stepped back. Glew emerged from the living room with the now clothed girl in his arms. He laid her in a lawn chair. Then he produced his phone from his pocket. He headed over to the crowd of cheering drinkers.

Shawn bolted toward me. I turned but he caught me in the gut.

Thunk!

We hit the ground. He scrambled on top of me and drove a right hand down, but I dodged it. He grabbed my wrists with the amphetamines pumping through him. I struggled back until I yelled into the night. Shawn let my wrists go and punched down at me with both fists. I blocked most of them with my hands but the flurry got faster. His knuckles connected with my temple and my forehead and then my jaw. I parried his shots but they got closer and closer. This pumped up fool just wouldn’t stop throwing. His heart would have to explode before he’d stop. My hands and forearms ached. I tasted my blood again.

Thump!

Jeans and boots surrounded me. I kept my hands up in front of my face. The group smothered me, stepping all around me. I tried to inhale. Someone stepped on my toe. Another tripped over me, spilling beer on my shirt. Another icy cold gush covered my face. A hand grabbed my wrist and yanked me through the crowd.

Glew dragged me over by the patio. I let my hands down. He patted my shoulder. I shook my head. The whole crowd kicked and struck poor old Shawn right there. He didn’t have enough amphetamines in him to fight them all. I’ve seen a pack of hyenas with less brutality. Glew’s camera feed went straight to his phone. So he had shown the brother what Shawn intended to do to his sister. Glew lit a cigar. “Maybe we should step in.”

I spat blood onto the patio. “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

Glew helped me to my feet. I followed him onto the patio where I patted the girl’s cheek. She made a slight groan, followed by a concentrated purse of her lips. She’d be searching her memory bank later on. She’d never know for sure. That would be the worst part of it. I can rest easy though, knowing that we kept her safe.

When we made it out of the house, the crowd all stormed upstairs. I reckon Shawn’s friends would be dealt with as well. “Maybe we should recruit a few of those fellows. Lighten our load.”

Glew puffed his cigar. “The funny thing is that they’ll all forget about us. They’ll be heroes in their own minds. Still, though, it’s pretty sweet.”

Shawn crawled his way through the fence out back to the front yard. Blood streaked from his eye. Mud covered his head along with beer I’m sure. He checked behind him once but then he crawled on ahead. Glew popped his trunk open. I wrapped Shawn’s mouth and wrists with duct tape.

The next day, the girl must have wondered a lot about what happened to her but she had her brother and friends who could let her know that a few strangers kept her safe. Shawn, on the other hand, woke up naked and tied to his own bed with his blood smeared on the sheets and a few sex toys lying nearby. I can’t be sure what he thought at the site of all that. But I do know that he left town the same day. Now I’ll drink a green beer to that on any day of the year.

Peanut Butter Suit

Fairfax pushed the garbage disposal up into the bottom of the kitchen sink. Chester and Glew yelled at the TV in Chester’s living room. The volume on the Titans game could run a body out of the state. Yet, Fairfax endured and screwed the new garbage disposal into place. They cut the volume down for half-time. Chester said, “Hey, boy! You got my disposal done?”

Glew laughed. “Yeah and get us a couple beers up here!”

Fairfax crawled out from under the sink. He pulled himself to his feet by the counter and placed his screwdriver back into his tool box. He said, “You boys deaf in there?”

The volume shot up above what it had been. Fairfax checked the fridge. A twelve-pack of Budweiser sat next to a twelve-pack of Coors which sat above a couple of Blue Moons. Fairfax grabbed a Blue Moon and walked into the living room. The volume died. Glew said, “Where’s our beers?”

Fairfax walked to the window and cracked open his beer. He looked at Chester. “Now remind me. Why are we here again?”

Chester looked up. “Um…to watch the game? Be worthless?”

Fairfax said, “No. Your neighbor complained about a robber in the area. We’re here to snuff him out.”

Chester used to work with Glew’s dad at a factory. He was now retired and had a generous pension but he kept his living conditions modest. After three failed marriages along with a son who lived across the country, he didn’t see any point in spending his life earnings on any kind of luxury just for himself.

A month or so ago, Fairfax and Glew had been hanging out with him just like now when they cooked up a good idea. They’d leave Chester’s garage open and make things seem like he wasn’t home. Chester’s tools and equipment would be there for the taking. Chester liked the idea at the time.

Chester said, “I don’t know. Do we have to? Do we have to, Glew?”

Glew grabbed them a couple of Buds and sat down. “I say we kill the TV and hang out and see if we get a bite. Really, Chester. This stuff can be pretty fun. Plus, you’ll know what kind of folks your neighbors really are.”

“I don’t want to know that.”

Fairfax said, “Why not give it an hour? It’s dark now and it’s prime time for folks to be passing by. Let’s have some fun, old buddy.”

Chester grinned. “All right. Let’s lock her down. Y’all did park up the street. Right?”

Glew’s brow furrowed.

Fairfax said, “Yes we did. Quit thinking so hard, Glew. You might have a good idea.”

Chester laughed.

***

Dudley left the grocery store at nine o’clock. He would have gotten out of there sooner if that one skank with the green hair had shown up. After putting in eight hours at the factory, he didn’t want to go into his second job but bills have to be paid. Don’t they? His stupid boss was never going to punish those idiots he worked with. A fellow works hard to move up but politics get in the way. It’s a vicious cycle.

He had a flat on the way home. He propped the old donut on there. How many times had it been now? Five maybe? He couldn’t afford a new one yet. Every dime he spent went to paying for that one mistake. And what a mistake.

He stopped by the store and stood in line for twenty minutes for gas. Those lottery players always hold up the line but this one knew the cashier and it was like a reunion. He shouldn’t have to do all this just to crawl home to an empty house. But then, what else could he do?

The mistake happened a year ago. He’d traveled to Tunica with a few buddies after work (back when he only had to work one job). They gambled and drank (they give them to you for free you know). He had a limit on gambling money set and he stuck to it.

When they dropped him off, he went inside his house and fell asleep in his recliner. Then he woke up.

He hurled into his toilet and sat there with a sweaty forehead and a gut turning flips. “Oh…oh lord…oh…never again…”

Someone knocked on his door.

Who in the world would be bothering him now? His buddies must have gotten bored. They can eat his socks after this shit.

He wiped his mouth and trudged to the door. When he opened it, he found a young woman standing there with her hands behind her back. She was shorter than Dudley’s five feet, one-inch frame. A midget maybe?

She whipped her hair behind her ear and smiled at him to the point that her white teeth gleamed in the darkness. Dudley sniffed the air. That perfume perked him up which didn’t seem possible after that bout in the bathroom. She talked but he couldn’t focus. So he reached inside and turned on the porch light.

“Well, uh…hello, there.”

The woman was the perfect height for him. Her blonde hair was thick and full. She wore a baby blue dress with matching high heels. She said, “Hello to you.”

She giggled.

He leaned on his doorway and said, “What’s going on?”

“I’ve seen you at work before.”

“You work at the plant?”

“I deliver supplies. I’ve seen you there a few times. I finally got up the nerve to ask your friend for your name and number.”

“Did you call?”

“No. I…used a little search app and found your address. You see, I prefer to meet people in person. I do apologize for it being so late.”

“Better late than ever.”

“I totally agree.”

Wow. He’d said ‘ever’ on purpose. Everyone corrected him on that, too. Except her. She just went with it. “What’s your name, darling?”

She said, “Dina.”

“Dudley and Dina. Now that sounds like a winning combination.”

“Oh, I definitely think you’re a winner.”

He stuck his chest out. The hangover shot right out of his mind. “Come on inside, Dina. You can check out my castle.”

She walked inside. She didn’t even try to step over the piles of clothes on the floor. She plopped down on his raggedy sofa and propped her feet up on a pile and then slid her shoes off. She sure shined in the midst of this hole. Dudley wiped his forehead and said, “Might I get you something to drink?”

She patted the sofa cushion next to her. “I only have a thirst for you.”

He grabbed the seat beside her. She draped his arm over her shoulder and snuggled up next to him. He said, “I’m sorry. I had a shower this morning but well…”

She sniffed his chest. “Oh you are all man. I like a strong musk.”

He pulled her close and kissed her lips. She said, “Oh my. Just like a plunger. I like you.”

“I like you! You ain’t no skank!”

They embraced in a long series of kisses, falling all over each other and then rolling in a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. She said, “Yeah. Get me dirty!”

Dudley took his shirt off and said, “Hell yeah! You ain’t no skank!”

She rolled around with him for half an hour. Then she pushed herself off him and dropped the blue dress. Dudley stripped off his jeans and drawers. She looked at the stained white socks on his feet. “Oh you have two toes sticking out, too. What a man. Follow me.”

Dudley followed her into his own bedroom. She pushed him onto the bed. She said, “You know what I love?”

“You tell me and you got it!”

“I love to lick peanut butter off a man.”

Dudley paused. “You do? Like all of the man?”

“Every damn inch.”

Dudley said, “Hold on.”

He raced into his kitchen, rifling through the cabinets. “Come on, damn it. You got to be in here somewhere.”

He found a full jar of a generic brand(that dumbass at work complained about it missing the other day, the idiot). “Oh sweet mercy.”

He dashed back into the bedroom and handed her the jar. She said, “Now get down there and prepare for ecstasy.”

She took the peanut butter and rubbed it all over Dudley, from his chest to his privates to even his butt. She licked him here and there as she went. Dudley howled. “Tell me I’m the man!”

“You damn sure are.”

“Naw. Say it.”

She took a lick and said, “You, Dudley, are the man.”

She spread the whole jar onto his body. Then she said, “I love to start in that special place.”

“You do?”

“Uh-huh. Here I come, big boy.”

Dudley closed his eyes and waited.

The bedroom light clicked on. Something else clicked. He looked up. She stood there, snapping photos of him there naked with his gut and privates and butt and legs covered in peanut butter. He said, “Wait now. What are you doing?”

She kept on snapping pictures with her phone. He leaned up. “What are you doing?”

She blew him a kiss and then left the bedroom. He took off after her. She pulled on her dress in the living room. A guy stood by his sofa. He looked like he stood seven feet tall and weighed like, four Dudleys. Dudley covered his privates. The guy chuckled through the smoke from his cigar as he flipped through the woman’s phone. “Aren’t you a sight, stud?”

Dudley said, “What’s this all about?”

“A reputation, friend.”

Dina got her dress on and slipped into her high heels. She turned and said, “Dudley, we’re going to send those pictures to all of your friends.”

“But? But why?”

“Unless you pay us.”

“What? What the hell’s going on?”

The guy said, “Ten grand or everyone sees you covered in goober butter, which in this picture, looks like shit. Like you had a shit party in your own bed.”

“But this is just…how can you…naw, you wouldn’t…”

He looked at Dina.

“How did you know where my bedroom was, Dina?”

She smiled. “Your lock on the door doesn’t work. You’re too cheap to ever fix it, though. It’s amazing that you haven’t been robbed but then, this place is such a hole that no one has bothered. And Dina’s not my name. It’s my sister’s name. You remember my sister?”

“Who?”

“Dina. Looks like me but chubbier and taller with glasses.”

“Aw.”

“Yeah. And how you met her at TGIFridays and then ordered a steak and cake and six beers and claimed you had to take a leak and then you ditched her?”

“But she was a skank-I mean…”

“Like you’re something special? My dog is taller than you.”

“You were going to slobber all over my body!”

“That body?” She chuckled. “You smell like week-old mayonnaise. And luckily, my taste buds aren’t the best.”

“But this don’t make anything right. Shaking me down? This won’t get me to go out with her again.”

The man stepped toward him. “And my sister?”

“Oh lord. What?”

“You got the biggest steak Chilis had to offer and margaritas and apple pie and then ran out on the check.”

“Hold on, now. I don’t remember.”

The man backed him to the wall. He showed him a fist the size of a coconut. “You need a reminder?”

“No. No, sir. I don’t.”

“And you did the same to a friend of mine. And that friend’s cousin. And a widow woman who trusted you.”

“All right. Well so what?”

“So, now you’re going to make up for all that. We calculate that you have ran up ten grand around town to all these females.”

“Bullshit.”

The woman produced a list and handed it to him. Dudley studied over it, the names coming back to him one by one. Shit. His goose was cooked. If he let them share the photos, he’d be ruined. His friends would never leave him be. If he didn’t have his pride, what else could he have?

So he scraped up the money, draining his bank account and then getting a loan for the rest. All so people wouldn’t see him in his peanut butter suit. They’d stuck to the agreement. No one at work laughed at him. Not for that at least. They did wonder why he took on a second job. In a year or so, he might just be paid up.

So when he turned onto his street and caught an eyeful of Chester’s open garage, he stopped in the street. A car honked behind him. He drove on home.

Those tools were just sitting there. Chester’s dumb ass had left them there for the picking. Dudley might as well cash in since Chester’s just another asshole.

Dudley drove back by Chester’s. He parked next to the curb and checked around. No one was watching on the street. Chester’s house sat empty. No one watched through their windows. Yes, sir.

Dudley backed his car up to the garage. He scrambled out of his car and tripped and fell into the grass. “Shit.”

He got back up and checked around again.

Nothing.

He grabbed up the tools he could find and stuffed them into his trunk. When he got them all, he stuck his middle finger up at the house and then drove away.

At home, he backed his car into his driveway. Then he got on eBay. He could make a quick pile of cash and catch up on his bills. Hell, the world owed him a favor after paying for all those skanks.

***

Chester laughed until he spewed Bud onto his carpet. “Dudley. That asshole. Of all the people on this street, I’d bet on him.”

Fairfax said, “Really?”

“That idiot came over here one time and showed off his tattoo. It said ‘Dud the Stude’.”

Glew said, “Stude?”

“Yeah. The artist told him that stud didn’t have an ‘e’ at the end but he insisted on it. I laughed at him for a minute. Well, I ain’t gonna lie. I pointed and laughed for a long time. Should have known he might try a little revenge. Let me show you something.”

Chester pulled up a picture on his phone. He laughed so hard that he doubled over and handed the phone to Glew who spewed his own beer. Fairfax took a look at Dudley there spread out on the bed with peanut butter all over him. He grimaced. “Is that shit all over him?”

Chester said, “Oh lord. My gut’s about to bust.”

Fairfax said, “How did you get the picture?”

“I still keep in touch with some of them old boys at work. Dudley works at the same plant I retired from. They got the whole story from this little gal that delivers up there.”

Chester filled them in on the story.

Glew said, “Did they give him hell about it?”

“Dudley paid her off not to tell. So they’ve been playing along. Her last day is next Friday. She’s moving to Texas with her boyfriend. Big old boy. They’re going to drop the hammer when she’s gone.”

Fairfax said, “Man oh, man. I almost feel for the guy.”

“Don’t. He liked to dine and dash the ladies, leaving them stuck with paying the check. Did that to several of them, including her sister. So he had it coming. He also kisses the boss’s ass and has ratted out a whole bunch of guys up there to him. Makes it up and tries to get ahead. But I know his boss. He just shakes his head and gives Dudley hell like the others do.”

Fairfax said, “Well, like I said, I ‘almost’ feel for him.”

Glew finished his Bud and stood. “Let’s go get him, then.”

Chester said, “Hold on. This requires a special touch.”

***

Dudley chuckled. That idiot Chester finally made his big mistake. He’d come back and see that his stuff was gone. Now, he could point and laugh at him. He’d wonder why. He might even suspect him but he wouldn’t know. It was about time he knew how it felt.

His phone buzzed.

He checked the text message.

It read ‘I know.’

He scratched his head. Then he set his phone down. He swallowed and stood up. He checked the number again. He didn’t know it. He paced the floor. The phone buzzed again.

The text message read ‘I’m willing to trade’.

“Aw hell. Not now. No. Come on, now.”

He paced around.

Just wait it out.

It’ll pass.

The phone buzzed again.

‘What have you got to trade? Or I start telling people’.

Dudley texted back. ‘Got some tools’.

He paced.

Come on.

A quick and easy fix and he wasn’t losing any money on it.

Come on.

Come on now.

The phone buzzed.

‘Okay. Headed over’.

He texted back ‘Now?’

No reply.

No. Come on.

Not tonight.

This has to be a joke.

They swore they’d never tell.

He paid them after all.

Someone knocked on the door.

Oh, man.

Dudley answered the door and then clenched his fists. “What do you want?”

A man stood there. He had a well-trimmed beard and a shirt with the sleeves cut off. He’d be trouble in a fight. He said, “The tools?”

Dudley leaned back. “What do you got for me?”

The man showed him his phone. There lay Dudley on his own bed with peanut butter spread all over him. He winced. “How did you get that?”

The man smiled. “Give me the tools and it’s forgotten.”

“And deleted.”

The man said, “You got my word on that.”

Dudley sighed. “Follow me.”

He walked to his car and popped open the trunk. “There you go.”

The man said, “Hhmm. Where’d you get these?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just take them.”

“Fair enough. I’ll pull my truck up.”

The man walked to his truck parked by the curb in front of Dudley’s house and then backed it into the driveway. Dudley handed the tools off to him. Either way, old Chester would still get his.

The man loaded the tools up into his truck bed. Then he showed Dudley the picture on his phone and deleted it. Dudley said, “All right, then.”

The man drove down the street. Dudley backed up to his front door.

Wait a minute.

The truck stopped just down the street. Hell, that’s Chester’s house!

The man parked in the driveway. Chester’s garage door rose up. The man returned the tools to Chester’s garage. Footsteps approached from the side of his house. Dudley turned.

A lanky fellow said, “Hey, Dudley.”

Dudley backed up. “Who are you?”

The fellow said, “I know.”

“Huh?”

The fellow showed him the picture on his phone of Dudley in his peanut butter suit. Dudley said, “Aw, hell.”

Someone else approached from the other side. Dudley turned. Chester held up his phone with the same picture. “Hey, Dudley. Pick up some tools today? Now is that crunchy or creamy anyway?”

Dudley screamed and ran down the street.

Chester and the other fellow laughed.

When he passed by Chester’s house, the bearded man waved to him.

Dudley kept on running.

***

A few months later, Chester told Fairfax and Glew that Dudley never came back. A foreclosure sign stood in his front yard. The boys at work never heard a peep out of him. One of the guys put the peanut butter picture up as his Facebook profile picture. This drew hundreds of comments. Then finally, a woman posted a comment at the end that read ‘Wow. I met this guy on a dating website and almost went out with him. Thanks for posting!’ Her profile indicated that she lived in Tunica.

So Fairfax and Glew took a trip to Tunica one night. They visited a number of casinos but never found Dudley. They did find a name tag on the sidewalk in front of one of the casinos that read ‘Dudley’ though.

When they got back, they discovered that a jar of generic peanut butter had been thrown at the front window of Glew’s apartment and Fairfax’s house and Chester’s house. The jars failed to break any of the windows. They searched Dudley’s foreclosed residence but found no sign of him. However, the world has seen him plenty. His picture in bed became an internet meme which most folks call Diarrhea Dan.

Talk about a pay-off.

Traditions

Wally Glew slipped over the fence. When he got to the back door, he placed his gloved hand on the handle. He turned it. The door opened. “Ah,” he said. “Thanks, Fairfax.” He got inside and shut the door. After taking a stroll through the house, he took a seat beside the wall and set his club down. He picked at his sweater vest. “Oh, man.”

He groaned. The top button on his vest was gone. He just bought the thing too. He puffed his stomach out. Could it be? No way. He couldn’t gain weight if he tried. The vest was medium-sized. Maybe they were making them smaller these days. That had to be it. Every manufacturer makes them differently. All the buttons were there when he put it on this morning. Right?

He checked his phone. The Cowboys were ahead. He smiled and shut his eyes. The turkey weighed on his bowels. Maybe he was gaining weight. Or maybe one of his nieces pulled the button off when he wasn’t looking. Yeah, that’s what happened. They were sneaky little devils. They did it…

***

Fairfax slipped his lock-picking tools back into his pocket. He took a tour through the house. Standard stuff. An easy target for sure. These folks sat at a relative’s house eating turkey and just leaving this place wide open. They even left their laptop sitting right there on the table for God’s sake. All just so they could sit around and eat and talk and get on each other’s nerves. Stuff to be thankful for. No thanks. Where’s the sense of adventure? No sense in idling away this holiday when he could be busting a thief in the chops.

Cathy had called twice earlier. He answered when she tried the third time. Same old invitation to visit with the family. Sure, she’d be fun but the others would mock him like always. Why did she keep trying? It’s like an unconscious thing. You just keep doing the same thing every year no matter what. Well, Cathy might force herself to do that but Fairfax didn’t have to. He hunkered down and waited for a thief to show up. To hell with tradition.

***

Clay closed the front door. He opened his car door and tossed the bag inside before his mom called after him. He turned. She said, “You going to see your girlfriend?”

He said, “Yeah, Mom.”

“Why don’t you tell her to come here?”

Phillip came up behind her. He squeezed her butt while looking at him. She responded with that goofy smile like she’d been caught at something. Clay said, “See you.”

He drove around with his bass thumping. Then he called up Rob. “Yeah?”

Clay kept the volume up on his music. Rob did the same to him when they spoke on the phone. They understood each other. Clay said, “Got something coming. Cool if I stay over?”

Rob said, “Bring the stuff. You down for the weekend? Got the crew coming.”

“Dope. I’m there.”

Rob said, “Bring your girl, too.”

“I’ll be like an hour. See you,” Clay said and hung up. He parked across the street from the house. He pulled the pick set from beneath his driver’s seat and then checked both ways. No traffic. No people. Just the goods. Waiting to be plucked like a turkey. Clay laughed to himself. Just like a turkey.

***

Fairfax answered his phone. “Yeah?”

“I have a situation here,” Glew said. “This guy is breaking in. He’s like three hundred pounds though.”

“All right,” Fairfax said. “Sounds like a good challenge for you.”

“For me? No, stud. This is at least a two-man job.”

“Can’t help you.”

“What?” Glew said. “Why not? What’s going…oh man. He’s almost in.”

Fairfax chuckled. “I’m on my way.”

“Hurry!”

Then he hung up.

Glew protected a house that sat a few houses down. He could make it in a couple of minutes at the most. The good thing about a three hundred pound opponent is that he probably doesn’t move with a lot of swiftness. So Fairfax had some time. Besides Glew should have to fight the giant off for a minute at least. The boy has a lot to learn.

Fairfax walked to the back door.

Someone’s shadow.

He ducked down. Someone approached the door. Fairfax hunkered behind the dining table. The guy stood taller than himself and maybe taller than Glew but he had the same skinny build as Glew. Some skinny guys can knock your head off, though. He picked at the door lock. Thank God Fairfax had thought and locked it back. He got into position. His phone buzzed. He put it on silent.

***

Clay returned the pick tools to his pocket. He slipped his gloves on and opened the door. Standard dining room. Wow. That thing on the floor. Clay picked it up. This isn’t a vase. It’s too heavy. Damn.

It’s an urn!

He shook his head. So Mommy and Daddy and Junior and Sis all eat at the table while Grandpappy’s dust sits over here in the corner. Clay patted the urn and set it down. “Cruel ass world.”

Clay walked toward the living room.

Someone grabbed him by the collar.

“Ahhhh!!!”

The person shoved him into the wall. Clay tried to shove back. The person drilled him in the gut with a punch. Clay fell to the floor. A flashlight beam took over his vision. So he closed his eyes. He gasped. “Hey…listen…whoever you are…we can work something…something…out…”

The flashlight beam vanished.

Clay opened his eyes.

The dining room light came on.

Clay closed his eyes. “Hold on. You’re going to get us busted, man. Listen-

“Oh my God,” the voice said.

Clay rubbed his eyes and peered up at the figure. He must have been shorter but he looked like Clay’s Dad. Ten feet tall right now. And broader than his dad. Thick through the chest and shoulders. A beard that was trimmed but not too much. A great hair-to-face ratio. The man said, “Clay.”

He wiped his eyes again. “Yeah? You’re…um…oh shit. You mowed our yard last summer.”

The man pulled a chair over to Clay and killed the dining room light. He said, “Sit down, you idiot.”

Clay sat in the chair and rubbed his stomach. Damn, he’d never been hit like that. He said, “Um, Joe? Joe Dulcolax?”

The man sat against the wall and turned on the flashlight again. It lit up a patch of the floor. This nearly had a campfire feel. The man said, “George Fairfax.”

“Oh, I was close.”

“Yeah,” Fairfax said. “Close to flushing your life down the toilet. What in the hell are you doing in here?”

“I just-

“I know what you’re doing. For God’s sake, why?”

Fairfax’s phone buzzed. He read a message and then stood up. “All right. We ain’t got time for a heart to heart. But we will later. Now get your ass out of here and I mean, you don’t ever come back. You understand?”

Clay nodded and walked to the back door. Fairfax killed the flashlight and stopped behind him. “Go now.”

Clay walked out. Fairfax walked by him. “Get moving, son.”

Clay said, “Yeah. Sorry.”

Fairfax turned onto the next street.

Clay bit his lip.

***

Glew stood behind the front door. The big oaf left it open and now rummaged through the master bedroom. Glew had his club in hand. He tiptoed through the living room.

The oaf thumped, thumped, thumped, down the hall.

Glew hid by the fireplace. He sucked in a long breath. Let it out nice and slow. Easy, now. He imagined Fairfax’s voice calming him down. The oaf carried a jewelry box through the living room. Glew clunked the oaf on the shoulder with the club.

The oaf turned and faced him. Glew said, “All right. Drop it.”

The oaf smiled. One tooth showed. He said, “No.”

Glew drew the club back. The oaf grabbed him by the throat and pressed him into the wall. Glew dropped his club and kicked the oaf’s shins. The oaf laughed and shoved him down the wall into the fireplace bricks. He squeezed Glew’s neck. It would burst. Blood would fly everywhere. Glew had eaten his last Thanksgiving turkey. Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad. Goodbye, Sis. I tried.

“Yyaaahhh!!”
Fairfax plowed into the oaf. The oaf let Glew go. Fairfax unloaded with a hundred punches, clonking the oaf over and over and buckling his tree trunk legs. Glew coughed and patted the floor for the club. The oaf chucked Fairfax into the wall. Fairfax bounced off the wall and rolled across the floor. Glew found the club. He braced himself to stand.

The oaf grabbed the jewelry box and thumped to the front door.

Something clanged against the oaf’s head. He collapsed to the floor. Glew forced himself to his feet. A guy walked through the front door. Glew wiped his eyes. Fairfax rose and said, “Damn it, kid! I told you to hit the road!”

The “kid” held an aluminum bat. He glanced at Glew. Fairfax snatched the bat but the kid pushed against him. “No! No, you don’t! This is MY bat!!”

Fairfax stopped.

The kid said, “My Dad gave this me on my birthday. You don’t take MY BAT!”

Fairfax held his hands up. “Fine. Shut the damn door.”

The kid closed the door. Fairfax turned on his flashlight and shone the beam on the oaf. The giant slept. A glob of drool clung to his bottom lip. Ugh. No sign of blood. Fairfax looked at Glew. “I’ll pull the truck around.”

Fairfax walked toward the back. Glew said, “Hey. Who is this guy?”

Fairfax stopped. “Glew, meet Clay. Clay, Wally Glew.”

“No. Who is he?”

“We ain’t got time.”

Fairfax got out through the back. Clay held the bat like he was at home plate. “It’s cool, man. I mean no harm.”

“Do me a favor,” Glew said. “Lower that weapon.”

Clay looked down at himself. “Oh, right. Sorry about that.”

The oaf snorted in his sleep.

“Fairfax mowed my Dad’s yard a couple of times. I never thought I’d see him…I mean, what are you guys doing?”

Fairfax’s exhaust rumbled outside. Glew wiped his nose. “Open the door. And grab his legs.”

Clay set the bat down. “Sure, Glew.”

Glew sighed.

Fairfax rushed inside. He nudged Clay. “Grab a leg.”

Clay grabbed a leg.

Fairfax grabbed another.

Glew grabbed the shoulders.

Fairfax shook his head.

Glew said, “Right.”

Glew grabbed the other leg and Fairfax grabbed the shoulders. They heaved the oaf off the floor. God. What a sack of garbage. Glew could see his own breath. Fairfax smiled but gritted down and kept on carrying the big man. Jay held his end. Glew placed the big man’s boot on the tailgate. Then he darted around to Fairfax’s side and got up under the oaf and shoved. Fairfax groaned. Clay yelped. Glew kept quiet. The oaf’s head bumped against the tailgate. Clay let off. Glew held on and kept pushing at the shoulders. His face grew tight. Fairfax took a breath. Was Glew working alone here? Fairfax shoved alongside Glew. Clay joined in. They heaved the mammoth into the truck. Fairfax shut the tailgate. He laughed and pointed at Glew. “You’re about to bust a spring.”

Glew sat on the ground and fought for breath.

Clay said, “You going to make it, Glew?”

Glew flashed a look at Fairfax and then left.

***

Clay held his bat up. “Where’s Glew going?”

Fairfax looked at him. Geez. What had it been? A year maybe? He said, “Boy, what in the hell brought you here?”

Clay swallowed.

Fairfax studied him.

Clay looked at the ground. “Stuff happened.”

“Stuff?”

“Yeah.”

“Stuff?”

“Yeah, man. Stuff.”

Fairfax scratched his jaw. “Does your dad know about your new hobby?”

“Go to hell,” Clay said. “He’s gone.”

Fairfax spread his hands. “He took off?”

“He’s dead. Okay, smart guy? Three months now. They told him he had a tumor. A month later, they put him in ICU and he never came out. Okay?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well people always spout off and they don’t know shit. Besides you’re here in the thick of things. Why are you trying to give me a speech? Huh? Don’t you have a family? I bet you have a Dad. Huh?”

Fairfax said, “Sort of.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Fairfax pointed to the truck cab. “Get in.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

Fairfax climbed inside and started the engine. Clay got into the passenger side. Fairfax drove onto the street.

Clay said, “What if he wakes up?”

Fairfax pulled to the curb of the next street. He got out and pulled a long rope from behind his seat. “Whoa,” Clay said. “What are you going to do with him?”

Fairfax climbed into the bed and tied a handcuff knot around the oaf’s wrists and ankles. Then he stepped down and wiped his hands. He got back into his truck.

“Listen, son,” he said. “I hate to hear about your dad. He was a good guy as far as I knew him.”

“He was a great man,” Clay said. “And then Mom starts seeing Phillip. Phillip the accountant. Son of a bitch acts like I don’t exist. He gets all on her right in front of me and she lets him. Shit. Dad never did nothing like that. He didn’t like Phillip either. I heard them talk about it and here she goes and gets right with him. What a bitch.”

Fairfax looked around. Police cruisers rolled through here sometimes. He needed to get. Glew was already waiting. He said, “You’ve been dealt a shit hand. But you see, the world don’t care about any of that. You got to get yourself together.”

“Every so-called adult says that.”

“It’s true,” Fairfax said. “You’re lucky I caught you. The police would have hauled you in. Is that what you want? End up in jail? What would your dad think of that?”

“Yeah. Sure. Same old speech.”

Fairfax started the truck and drove over to Clay’s car. He said, “This is you. Right?”

Clay gave him a sideways look. “Yeah.”

“Oh,” Fairfax said. “You’re robbing a house and I’m the creep for guessing at which car you drive. That’s some logic right there.”

Clay said, “Look-

“I’m not your dad. I’m not your step-dad. I’m not much of an adult either. But I’m telling you this. I’ve got some cargo I got to unload and I don’t have time for this. So you’re going to straighten your ass up and stop doing this shit or you’ll go the same way this fellow is going. And next time, I will take you down. You understand me?”

“Pshaw. Whatever.”

Fairfax cut the engine. He walked around and opened Clay’s door. Clay grabbed his bat. Fairfax dragged him out by his collar. Clay swung the bat. Fairfax ducked and punched him in the shoulder. Clay sank to the ground. “Ahhhh….damn, man. I think you busted my blood vessel or something.”

Fairfax propped him against his car bumper. “Now. Go home.”

Clay whispered something.

Fairfax kicked his foot. “What?”

Clay said, “Yeah. I’m headed home. I swear.”

Fairfax drove away.

***

Clay got up and rubbed his shoulder. He picked up his bat and twisted it. The dents and scratches had piled up but he’d earned them. Dad must have pitched that ball to him a hundred times.

Still, Dad was gone.

He walked back down the block with his bat and picked the lock on the house. He entered and picked up the jewelry box on the sofa. Rob and the crew would welcome him. When he got to the front door, those words came back to him.

“The world don’t care about any of that.”

Clay licked his lips. Then he hunkered down and called his girlfriend. She made small talk. He said, “Listen, what do you think of Rob?”

“Your friend Rob?” she said.

“I wouldn’t call him my friend.”

She said, “Good. He’s not. He calls me and texts me all the time. I’ve told him you and I are together. I would have told you but I don’t know. You seem like you look up to him like he’s your role model or something. Rob can do no wrong.”

Clay set the jewelry box down. “God damn it.”

“What’s wrong?”

He put the phone on his leg. Rob didn’t talk to him in high school. He only got friendly after his dad died. She introduced them for God’s sake. The world really didn’t care about his problems. Rob wouldn’t be his dad. Neither would Phillip. Neither would Fairfax but Fairfax didn’t bullshit him either. He placed the phone back to his ear. “Baby?”

“Yeah?” she said. “You okay?”

“Can you meet me tomorrow? I know you can’t tonight.”

“I can meet you tonight. How about the Waffle House? You want to meet me there?”

Clay stood. “Sounds great, baby. I love you.”

“Aw, baby. I love you too. I’m on my way.”

He hung up and left the house. When he got to his car, Fairfax sprang up from the other side. Clay jumped. “Whoa, now!”

Fairfax grabbed him by the collar. “What did you get?”

“Nothing. I picked up the jewelry box but I put it back.”

Fairfax shined the flashlight in his eyes. “You sure about that?”

Clay squinted. “Yeah, man. I’m sure.”

“All right. Keep your ass in line.”

Fairfax walked away.

Clay said, “Is that big dude okay?”

“He’s in a ditch. Awake. And feeling very sorry for himself.”

“Kind of like me. Huh?”

“Nah. You ain’t got a pop-knot the size of a boiled egg on your head.”

Clay laughed. He said, “Hey. Hold on.”

Fairfax turned back to him.

Clay reached inside his car and then handed a him plastic bag. Fairfax examined it. Clay said, “It’s just leftovers. Some turkey and dressing. Happy Thanksgiving, Fairfax.”

Fairfax’s mouth hung open.

Clay said, “Okay. I have a date. See you.”

Clay drove away, leaving Fairfax staring at his gift.

***

Glew set the button down on his dining table. Then he removed his sweater vest and placed it beside the button. He threaded his needle. His doorbell rang. Glew answered the door. Fairfax stood there with a bag in his hand. Glew said, “Stud. What’s up?”

“Just wanted to stop by. Ain’t that what folks do on Thanksgiving? Stop by and sit and talk and shit?”

Glew pointed at him and resumed his seat at the table. “That they do.”

Fairfax removed a plate from the cabinet and then dumped the bag’s contents onto it. Turkey and dressing with a helping of English peas.

Oh well.

He grabbed a fork and set his plate on the dining table. He watched Glew. “What you got there?”

Glew pulled the needle through. “Just mending. My nieces ripped the button off.”

“Didn’t they do the same thing last year?”

“Um…I don’t think so.”

Fairfax took a bite of turkey.

“Where did you get that?”

Fairfax swallowed. “It’s not bad.”

Glew finished up the top button and tied it off. He held it up. “Like new. Right?”

“Sure.”

Glew put on the sweater vest. He fastened every button with care. Then he sat straight in his chair. “There we go.”

Fairfax said, “You’re quite the seamstress.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“You’ll make a fine wife.”

Glew said, “Okay. Keep going.”

“You think you could put a darn in my sock, miss?”

“What a Thanksgiving. Huh?”

“We protected two houses. Now those folks’ll get home and they’ll have all their stuff. Of course, the house you were in will look a bit off. I did go in and set the jewelry box back.”

“What about Clay? He wasn’t still hanging around?”

Fairfax swallowed. “Nah, he was gone.”

“Seems like he’s lost.”

“He’ll be all right.”

Glew put his feet up on an empty chair and placed his hands behind his head. “That’s good. You know, it was okay eating with my folks today but I don’t know. I never relax over there. I relax most after one of these jobs. The adrenaline rush gets me keyed up but then I just float on down, man.”

Fairfax burped.

Glew said, “Good lord.”

Fairfax wiped his mouth and set the napkin on his empty plate. He leaned back and placed his feet in the other chair. “I hear you, partner.”

Glew sunk lower in his chair.

Fairfax said, “Say, maybe we could do this every year. Like a late night Thanksgiving.”

“You mean a tradition?”

“Hell no. Just like a meeting.”

“Sounds good. Need to get some women here for next year’s…meeting.”

Glew pictured it. A couple of women surrounding him and admiring his flat stomach. Fairfax eating his turkey with his own woman maybe. He opened his eyes. Fairfax slept. He looked a little like the big oaf sleeping on the floor back in that house. What was it like to be a big heavy-breathing mammoth? Glew didn’t want to know. It was best to keep his trim figure. Ah, a nap sounded good. Glew narrowed his eyes.

Something boinked Fairfax in the chin.

Fairfax said, “What the hell?”

He rubbed his chin. Then he inspected his chest. He picked up something and showed it to Glew. “Ain’t this your button?”

Empty Chair, Full Heart

Minnie bit into a sugar cookie. Her guests chatted around her dining room table. Five of her dining chairs sat occupied. When had that happened last? A fine warmth radiated from these folks. Minnie closed her eyes and smiled. She opened them. The end chair sat vacant. Three months now. As of yesterday. She set the remainder of the cookie onto her plate and wiped her lips with her napkin.

Her sister, Barbara and her brother-in-law Wilmer spoke to their daughter and Minnie’s niece, Jennifer, about what she needed to look for in a new house. Jennifer had finally saved up the money to get a loan all on her own. At thirty with two children and no husband or father in the picture, she hadn’t made the best choices. However, she’d earned her nursing degree and worked long enough that she had some money and could get out of her crumby apartment. Not that there’s anything wrong with an apartment. Some great men work hard so their wives can live in a nice apartment. Jennifer’s was just run down. The other guest present sat there peering at the China cabinet. Sy-Jennifer’s boyfriend.

Sy smiled at Minnie and had used no cuss words so far. He wore a turtle-neck sweater and kakis. According to Jennifer, Sy worked as a bank teller and looked to be manager. He looked like he stepped out of GQ. Barbara and Wilmer loved him. Wilmer had played golf with Sy’s Dad and uncle for years. “Good fellows” he called them. Minnie had no reason to not like him…except for that.

Sy’s eyes drifted around the room toward the china cabinet and then to Minnie and then quickly away. That’s the third time. This guy would snatch something from here before the night ended. Her Moe would have known it, too.

Minnie said, “Well, let’s move to the living room. What do you say?”

The others nodded and started to stand.

Jennifer said, “Oh, Aunt Minnie.”

Minnie smiled. “Yes, dear?”

“Well,” Jennifer said. “I hoped you would…um…show Sy here…around your apartment?”

Minnie bit her lip. Barbara and Wilmer smiled toward her. Jennifer watched her. Sy looked at the china cabinet. And then he looked away.

Minnie said, “Y-yes. Yes. Of course. What am I thinking? Young man, you come right with me.”

Minnie walked to the kitchen entrance. Sy coughed behind her. She turned back to Sy. He smiled. She stepped around him. Barbara and Wilmer resumed the house discussion with Jennifer. They were in their own world without Sy. They could have fit into a snow globe. Sy could have fit into a prison cell. She sighed and turned. “Follow me.”

Minnie showed Sy her living room. He smiled the whole time. The TV and the Blu Ray player and the laptop and the little robot vacuum cleaner. Sure, add up all the potential loot in my home, you filth.

Minnie showed him her kitchen and the study. She returned to the hall and walked toward the living room where Jennifer approached. Minnie stopped. Sy said, “What’s this room back here?”

Jennifer smiled at Sy. Then she turned to Minnie. “Aren’t you going to show Sy your room, Aunt Minnie?”

Minnie said, “Um…”

Barbara and Wilmer walked up behind Jennifer. Wilmer said, “Who’s ready for a Sam Adams? Sy, old man. How about it?”

Barbara watched Minnie. Jennifer glanced at her mother and back at Minnie. Wilmer said, “What’s going on?”

Minnie exhaled. “I’ll show him. Of course, dear.”

Jennifer said, “Oh good.”

Jennifer blew a kiss to Sy who returned the favor. Then she went to the bathroom.

Minnie walked toward Sy who stood by her bedroom door. He wore that smile, too. Wilmer asked him about the beer again. Sy gave him a nod. That’s right. You don’t talk. Just keep plotting out the robbery.

Minnie showed Sy her bedroom. He looked at the bed and the walls. She reached for the light switch. Sy said, “My, my. This reminds me of my mother’s room.”

Minnie stepped back. “Oh really?”

And what mental hospital does she inhabit?

“Yeah,” Sy said. “She had the same color on the walls. That quilt is similar, too. Her mother made it for her. She made one for me, too. It’s good to pass things down.”

“That’s sweet, Sy.”

When she reached for the light switch, he said, “Oh, hold up!”

Minnie stepped back and balled up her right fist. “What?”

He stared into the aquarium on her dresser. “These guys. Oh my God. African Pancake Tortoises. Right?”

“Oh,” she said. “Right.”

“When did you get them?”

She picked at her blouse. “I…um. They belonged to my husband.”

He stared into her eyes. Was that a tear on the edge of his eyelash?

He said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

How did he do that? Did he carry a bottle of Visine in his pocket? Surely he couldn’t really feel sorry for another person, being a low down rat. “That’s all right, Sy.”

Sy tapped on the aquarium but he did so in a gentle way, like Moe used to do. He didn’t want to alarm them-just get their attention.

She pointed to the aquarium. “He liked them a lot. I’ve been feeding them since he…I never really liked reptiles. Or are they amphibians?”

Sy said, “Reptiles.”

“Thank you,” she said.

Sy rubbed his index finger across his lip. “I can give you a hundred bucks for them. Right here and right now.”

“Oh,” she said. “That’s very generous. But I don’t think so. I’ll keep looking after the little stinkers. Moe would have want me to.”

He scratched his forehead. She turned the light off and stepped forward. He didn’t move. She said, “Well…we should get up front.”

He flipped the light back on. She took a step back. He said, “A hundred bucks is a fair price. Believe me. I know.”

She stared him in the eyes. He held the stare as if he’d just given her some fatherly advice. God, the stare lasted ten seconds. No, twenty seconds! She looked away and said, “I’m sure it is. I’m not interested, though. Let’s go on back up front now.”

She reached for the light switch. He covered it with his hand. Her heart thoomp-thoomped. Oh, Moe. If only you could be here and take care of this punk…

Jennifer popped her head in the doorway. “Hey, hon. What’re you guys doing?”

Sy fell into a big smile. Geez, those teeth. Her last boyfriend had held onto three or four teeth in his twenty-five years. Sy looked like he had fifty chicklets in there. Oh, the things the world does for a pretty face.

They enjoyed beers and wine over several hands of Uno in the living room for the next three hours while a Titans game played in the background. Minnie watched Sy but he kept his eyes on Jennifer for the rest of the evening. She could tell Jennifer what she thought of Sy but her poor mother warned her about them all. Jennifer never listened. Maybe they would break up. If fate can be awful and take Moe away, maybe it can be kind and kick Sy out of their lives.

***

A week later, Minnie lay in her bed at eight-thirty. She had broken plans to meet Barbara at Chile’s for their weekly margarita with chips and salsa. She didn’t know why. She closed her eyes.

The door handle rattled.

She slid out of bed and drew her robe from the hook on the bathroom door. She wiped her eyes and tied her robe around her. Then she slid under her bed and grabbed Moe’s .22 Remington five-shot revolver. She slid the cylinder out. Five chambers and five bullets. She shut it and tip-toed out of the bedroom. She kept low and stopped by her kitchen counter. From there, she peered around at the door.

The handle rattled again.

Someone wanted in. Minnie had her cell phone in the pocket of her robe. Moe would want her to call the police. But folks just think odd these days. They want to call somebody who’ll take care of them. Why not take care of yourself?

The door handle rattled again. Minnie pulled the hammer back on the Remington. Come on through. Just come on through and try to rob a defenseless widow, you big upstanding citizen. Bring everything you’ve got.

The would-be intruder ran.

The front door of the building slammed.

Minnie stood. “Aha!”

Something had spooked her intruder.

She pulled out her cell phone and keyed into the app that showed her doorbell camera feed on her phone. The guy wore plain black clothes but that face could not be denied. Sy had come back. He’d spotted that doorbell camera and fled. He was the dirty scoundrel she knew him to be.

***

Fairfax sat at the table beneath the park pavilion. He munched on a Barbecue sandwich but he sure took his time. Minne smiled. Moe’s tortoises moved with more speed. She stepped out of her car and walked over to him. He said, “Minnie,” before she got close enough for him to see her. She stopped. “Wow, that’s creepy, George.”

Fairfax wiped his mouth and held up a thick finger. “Is it creepy that I knew you were there or is it even creepier that you sat there watching me and waited seven and a half minutes before you approached me?”

Minnie slapped his shoulder. “Hush up, now. I have something to tell you. Something in your line of work.”

“My work? Roofing? At least, that’s what I’m doing this week.”

She poked his arm. “Just finish that sandwich and listen to me.”

She told him about Sy and the attempted break-in. He finished the sandwich. He removed his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Who told you about me and Glew?”

“My sister, Barbara. I couldn’t believe it at first. She told me about you two getting her jewelry back. I thought ‘My lord.’ I could not picture old George Fairfax doing anything like that.”

“What am I? Satan?”

She coughed and giggled. “No, you goof. You just, I don’t know. I didn’t think you hardly even talked to anybody. Now you’re going around and helping damsels in distress. It threw me for a loop. I thought you would be a quiet hermit from here on out. Does your mother know what you do?”

He replaced the sunglasses on his face. “When did you say you’re going out of town?”

“This weekend. He’ll try to get those tortoises. I told Jennifer. So I know she told him and he’ll try.”

He grinned. “You told her on purpose. Huh?”

She handed him an apartment key.

***

Fairfax pulled into the apartment complex at six o’clock. He carried some takeout food up the steps to the second floor and found number 224. He inserted the key in the door and opened it up. Minnie said, “Freeze.”

He stopped.

She held a Remington revolver although she didn’t point it at him. He said, “Easy, now.”

She giggled and held it out to him. “For your protection this weekend. Where’s your partner? Lou?”

Fairfax set the Remington on the coffee table. “It’s Glew. We work in shifts. He’ll relieve me sometime tomorrow unless I need his assistance first.”

She picked up her purse. “I’m off then. I’ll be back Sunday night at eight o’clock and not a minute later.”

“Have fun,” Fairfax said.

Minnie kissed his jaw and then left, locking the door after herself. Fairfax leaned back and listened to the sounds of the apartment settling. Come on, Sy. Come on and bite, little fish.

***

Glew walked up the apartment steps, counting each one as he did so. A wiff of something tickled his nostrils. He looked up. Nothing. He looked down. In between one of the steps, a vision gave him tingles. The young lady stopped and looked up at him. “Wally?”

He smiled. “Well, well.”

The young lady said, “Oh my God.” She clapped her high heels up the steps. Glew embraced her and inhaled the vanilla perfume. Then he buried his face into her hair. She tapped his arm. “You can let go now.”

“Oh.” He stepped back but kept his hands on her arms. She did not protest. “Cindy. Where have you been?”

“I live here. You don’t remember. Do you?”

“Yes, of course,” Glew said. “Through a rum haze, I recall that you lived in an apartment. Not sure it was this complex, though. What can I say? They all look alike to me.”

She toyed with his shirt. “What are you doing here, anyway? Coming back for round two? Only took you two and a half months.”

He opened his mouth.

“Get up here, you sumbitch!” Fairfax said.

Glew looked up. His partner stood on the balcony. The bags wore heavy under his eyes, even from down here. He turned to Cindy. “I’m sorry but I have some work to do.” He leaned down to her ear. “I can’t tell you which apartment I’m in but stay away from 224. Do not go in 224. Okay?”

She ran her tongue across her teeth. Then she took off. Glew galloped up the steps. Fairfax passed him and trotted down the stairs. Glew said, Okay, partner. See you!”

He strolled into 224.

An hour later, Cindy met Glew at the door. He picked her up in his arms and then carried her down the hall to the bedroom. Once he got the door open, he carried her inside and tossed her onto the queen-sized bed. She squealed. Then she sat up. “Wow, I think my mom has a quilt like this.”

He switched off the light and lit a candle. “Every mom has one of those.”

She kicked off her high heels. He jumped onto the bed beside her. She said, “And what does every private detective have?”

“A secret,” he said. “And the answer is always right here.” He steered her hand down low. She giggled and licked his lips. Then the explorations began. Glew groped and moaned and gripped and squeezed until Cindy shoved him over. He stared at her.

“AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!”

He turned to the door. The aquarium with the turtles. Where had it gone? No. Oh no. That quick? How was that possible?

He sprang up. She grabbed his arm. He slung free of her grip. “Sorry!” he said. He ran through the apartment.

When he reached the steps, he slowed down and hobbled as best he could. The guy wore a black jumpsuit. He jumped into a red sedan and sped out of the lot. Glew tripped over his pants around his ankles. He smacked the ground. “Shit!”

Fairfax’s ugly truck pulled up beside him.

“Stud!” Glew said. He scrambled up inside the beast. Fairfax took off after the sedan. “Pull your damn pants up.”

Glew looked down. “Oh right. Sorry. I was watching but-

“I know and I will say, she is a looker but damn, man. Why didn’t you lock the bedroom door?”

“I guess my urges just took me over.”

They followed the sedan through lots of traffic on out to the highway and through curvy roads until Sy pulled the sedan into a gravel driveway that led to a trailer. Fairfax pulled over onto the side of the road out of view of the trailer. He stepped out, followed by Glew. Sy carried the aquarium up to the front door and knocked.

A woman answered the door. She placed her hands to her cheeks. “You found them?!? Oh thank you!”

She closed the door. Sy stepped off her tiny porch and wore a wide smile. Who was this guy’s dentist? Glew might have to pay him a visit.

The woman returned with a boy by her side. The little guy looked like he was around ten years old. He wore glasses and looked a bit chubby. However, he probably didn’t get picked on in a physical way. He could handle himself.

The woman handed over a wad of bills to Sy.

Fairfax tapped Glew’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”

***

Sy handed the aquarium over to the woman. She thanked him. He walked straight toward the sedan. Glew stepped in front of his door. Fairfax grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back onto the hood. His smile vanished. “Hey, what is this?”

The woman set the aquarium down. “What do you two think you’re doing? Get your hands off of him!”

The boy watched the scene, grinning. He threw a few punches at the air.

Fairfax turned to the woman. Sy punched Fairfax in the lip. The woman gasped. Fairfax dragged Sy off the hood. Sy said, “I’m sorry” five times. Fairfax got Sy on his knees and then placed his foot into the center of his back. From there, he shoved him forward until Sy’s face was pressed into the sedan’s fender. Fairfax kept his boot on his back, holding him there. Glew turned away and chuckled.

The woman said, “Take your boot off of him.”

“Ma’am, do you try to teach your son right from wrong?”

She placed her hands on her hips. “Yes, sir, I do.”

“This guy stole those turtles.”

“Do what?” she said.

The boy said, “Tortoises. Not turtles.”

“He stole them from a widow.”

“What?” She looked at Sy. “Is that true?”

Fairfax dug the boot into Sy’s spine. Sy groaned and said, “Yes!”

The woman kicked Sy in the butt. Glew walked away laughing. Fairfax let Sy fall to the ground. Then he turned him over and pulled the woman’s money from his pocket. He handed her money back to her. He said, “Six hundred bucks. Good lord. Those are some pricey turtles.”

The boy said, “Tortoises.”

The woman took her money back. She pointed to her son. “Oh they’re worth it. He loves them. He’s been looking for some forever.”

Fairfax said, “Uh-huh.”

She looked at him. “So? I just pay you and then you pay the widow?”

Glew walked up beside Fairfax. He said, “That sounds like a good deal.” He looked at the boy. “Ready to play with your new turtles son?”

The boy smiled and said, “Tortoises! I’m ready!”

The woman held the money toward Fairfax who held up his hand. “Now, I can’t say.”

Glew and the woman stared at Fairfax.

He said, “The widow didn’t tell me that she would sell them. So, I’m afraid I can’t let you have them.”
The woman frowned. Glew looked at Fairfax. “Hey, come on, stud. I think the boy should get them. Just look.”

The boy hung his head and stuck out his bottom lip. Fairfax looked at Glew. “It ain’t that simple. Get in the truck.”
Glew said, “Look, man.”
Fairfax stepped closer to him. “Get in the truck.”

Glew walked away. After kicking Sy in the back, he got into the truck.

Fairfax turned back to the woman. “Listen, the widow woman is returning tomorrow night at eight o’clock. You come by with your money and make her the offer. She’ll probably say ‘yes’.”

The boy let go of a tear. The woman hugged him and wiped his eyes. She studied Fairfax who picked up the aquarium. “You think she will?”

Fairfax said, “I do. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

On his way back to the truck, Fairfax kicked Sy in the ribs. Sy crawled into his sedan.

They pulled on down the road. Glew shook his head. “That kid looked so sad. We should have just let him have them.”
Fairfax said, “We’ll see tomorrow night.”

“At least one of us cares.”

“Yeah, you sure cared all the way down the steps with your pants around your ankles.”

Glew didn’t say much for the rest of the way back. When Fairfax dropped him off he said, “And you can stay until seven tomorrow night.”

Glew reached for the aquarium. Fairfax swatted his hand. “Yeah, right.”

“What am I staying for, then?”

“That’s a good question. Why are you staying? In fact, why did you even come over to begin with?”

Glew swallowed.

Fairfax drove away.

***

Minnie knocked on her own front door and waited. A voice spoke through the door. “Who goes there?”

She deepened her voice. “The master of the house.”

The voice (also deeper) said, “This is an apartment.”

Minnie shook her head. Then she cleared her throat and got into her deepest voice. “Open the door before I break it down.”

The door opened. A man stood there, eating Goober candies. Minnie looked him up and down. “So you’re the famous Glew?”

“Infamous,” he said.

“Wonderful.”

She stepped inside and set her purse on the kitchen counter. She took in a deep breath. Then she turned back to him. “So-

The toilet flushed in the bathroom. Glew chuckled. Fairfax stepped out. “Oh. Howdy, Minnie. About time you made it back.”

She said, “I had a little traffic delay. So how did everything go? Did Sy stop by for a discount on some turtles?”

Fairfax motioned to Glew who told Minnie the tale. At the end, he said, “Now you think the boy should have the turtles. Right?”

Minnie’s smile faded. She looked at Fairfax. He watched her with steady eyes while seated at her dining table.

The doorbell clanged. Minnie blinked a few times. Fairfax nodded to her. She answered her front door. The woman from the trailer stood there with her son by her side. Minnie invited them inside. The woman confirmed Glew’s story. The boy hugged Minnie’s waist. Minnie turned red. She hugged the boy back. The mom said, “So, name your price and we’ll work something out.”

Minnie looked back at Fairfax. He kept those steady eyes on her. She said, “Does your mama know what’s best for you?”

Fairfax grinned.

She said, “Did it ever make you mad that she knew best and denied you things?”

Fairfax shrugged.

She said, “You got over it, though. Right?”

“I did. And if I didn’t, who cares? That’s my problem.”

She turned back and took a seat at the table. She looked at the boy and said, “I won’t sell you the tortoises.”

The woman said, “What? Hold on, now. Why not?”

“You see, I have-

The boy stomped Minnie’s foot. Minnie drew back and yelled. The boy shook his fist toward her. “You give me those tortoises or else! Or else, grandma! You hear me? Or else!”

The woman stared at her son. Could eyes get that big without bursting?

Fairfax stood. “Don’t you ever be hitting a lady, son. Back up.”

The boy raised his other fist.

Fairfax said, “Back up.”

The boy drew his fist back.

The mother grabbed the boy’s fist and yanked him toward her. Tears collapsed down his cheeks. His mother hunkered down and pointed in his face, warning him with a low voice that escaped the others’ ears. She pulled him to the door, moving like the boy was a whip in her lion tamer grip. She turned back to Minnie. “My apologies, ma’am.”

Minnie massaged her toe. “That’s all right.”

The woman looked at Fairfax and then at Glew. She shook her head and looked back at Fairfax and said, “You a father?”

Fairfax said, “Not yet.”

“You should be.”

Then she left.

Minnie looked at Fairfax. “I think she’s right. Moe and I talked about having kids. We tried but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me.”

Fairfax motioned for Glew to sit down. Glew sat. Fairfax sat next to Minnie. He took her hand in his and said, “Who says you’re not a mother?”

Minnie laughed and hugged him. Fairfax pulled Glew into the hug. He dropped a Goober onto the floor.

***

At ten o’clock that night, Minnie’s phone rang. She wiped the sleep from her eyes and answered.

“Aunt Minnie?”

She said, “Hello, Jennifer.”
“Um, what is this Sy has been telling me about you hiring some thugs to beat him up? Are you out of your mind? And don’t think I didn’t notice you giving him the cold shoulder at your apartment that night. I have to tell you-

“Jennifer, get your butt over here.”

“Do what?” she said. Her voice shook.

Minnie rose up in bed. “Get over here. I’m going to talk. You’re going to listen. Then we’re never going to talk about this again.”

“I don’t-

“And if you don’t listen, fine, but I can say I tried.”

Minnie hung up on her. Then she made herself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. She blew the steam off the top and took a sip. Then she pulled the package of sugar cookies from the cabinet. She ate one whole and smiled at the chair at the end of the table.

Waiting on Wisdom

Scott Lott sold all kinds of boats over the years. Along the way, he’d ran into some trouble with a few thieves. In the past, he’d conceded that he wasn’t seeing the boats again but when he told Glew about his latest loss, we ran the thief down and returned Scott’s inventory to him.

A month later, I got home and took a shower after a long day of roofing and sat in my rocker where I dozed.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock.

I stirred.

Knock.

Knock.

“All right, damn it,” I said.

I stepped out and looked at the tree line across the road where a pink sun blazed forth. Yes, sir. Thank you to whatever woke me up. This is the best time for staring over that way. I blinked a few times. A truck sat in my driveway. A boat sat on a trailer behind it. Scott popped up beside my porch rail. . “What’s up, rough and ready?”

“Not much, slick and sissy,” I said.

Scott pointed to the boat. “What do you think of that little number?”

I whistled. “Just get it?”

“Nope,” he said. “Had it a while. To tell you the truth, I’m tired of it. How about you take it?”

I held up a hand. “Ain’t got the funds at the moment.”

He spread his hands out. “After you guys getting me back my other boats, you think I’d make you pay for this?”

I swallowed. “Well, I mean…Glew told me about the job and all. He should get it before I do.”

“I agree,” he said. “Only, he didn’t want it.”

“What? Why not?”

Scott shrugged. “He told me to bring it over here. So…here.”

I smiled. “Dang, Scott. This is real nice. Thank you. Really.”

Scott shook my hand. He backed the boat off the driveway into the yard beside my shed. We got her unhooked. He got back in his truck. I said, “Stay a spell if you want. It’s a good day to watch the sun set.”

Scott shook his head. “Got to get back to it. Enjoy the boat.”

He drove to the end of the driveway. Then he backed up toward me. I stepped aside. He stopped a few feet from me and handed me a cigar. “This goes mighty good with sunset watching.”

I took the cigar and grinned.

He said, “I really should. I’ll have my wife make me some tea and I’ll take it easy one day next week. I’ll think of you when I do, George. How’s that sound?”

I placed the cigar between my teeth. “Like a million dollar idea, Scott.”

He took off down the road.

I set up my lawn chair and stared at the gray fourteen-foot Polar Kraft Jon boat with a forty-inch bottom, sitting on a sixteen-foot trailer. I toyed with the cigar between my lips. The setting sun floated back there, like an early moon looking to peak through and keep me company. I rolled the cigar around. A Coors would hit the spot right now.

“Hhmm.”

I placed the cigar on the porch rail and then walked inside. I grabbed my keys and then backed my truck up to the boat trailer. I hooked it up and then I rode on down the road a good piece, shifting my eyes between the road and the boat.

Hey.

Maybe I could have a little fun here.

I drove to a little cove in the northern section of town. Some of these places sat vacant. None of them looked lived in. Don’t expect folks to answer within minutes of you knocking and if you’re expecting Halloween decorations, you need to drive away. I like to call it a blind street. Theft lingered in the air like week old trash. So I backed the boat up into the driveway of a vacant house near the dead end and then unhitched it. I slapped a GPS tracker onto the boat and parked down the street.

Glew sent me a text message, asking me about my whereabouts. I told him. Twenty minutes later, he stepped out of his car all decked out in his white suit and fedora. The guy looked like Colonel Sanders’ rich grandson. When he climbed inside my truck, the Polo cologne found my nostrils. I rolled down my window. He said, “So what’s going on, stud? Meeting your date here?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He snickered. “Yeah, right, like you’d have a date on a Friday night. That’s what weird folks do. Right?”

I said, “I suppose you do, of course.”

He smiled wide. “This one. Oh, man. My greatest conquest.”

“I’m happy for you two.”

“No, stud. Look,” he said. He showed me her Facebook profile on his cell phone.

I said, “She’s-

He tapped my arm. “I know. And it’s not just that. She just passed her bar exam. And her dad is loaded and already bought her a new house for passing the test. And she’s very attracted to my work. And she’s not looking for a husband. Career woman. No interest in kids. I mean, there is nothing wrong with her. You may never see me again, man.”

“I don’t know.” I scratched my chin. “You might miss out on all the fun we have running around.”

“Pshaw,” he said. “Did you not hear me? This lady will keep me plenty busy. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Maybe she’ll let me fight crime one night a week and give you a thrill.”

“I’m honored.”

He chuckled. “Aw, don’t be jealous, stud. You’ll find a life one day. I’m headed out, though.”

He stepped out of the truck and walked around to my window. “I got to say, you’re on your own here. I can’t mess this date up. So unless you’re dying, don’t call. Okay?”

I peered in my rearview mirror at the boat. “Aw, I wouldn’t expect much, Glew. Go get her, buddy.”

“You bet, you son of a gun.”

He drove to the end of the street. Then he honked his horn twice and squealed his tires in the turn. I took a few slugs of coffee. Something landed on the power line up there. An owl?

A Jeep Wrangler rolled by at twenty miles an hour. The driver turned around in the dead end and passed back by the boat. Its tail lights disappeared in the growing darkness. I rubbed the back of my neck. I took another shot of coffee. The Jeep pulled back around and stopped behind the boat.

Here we go.

I ducked down, keeping a watch on my GPS device. Ten minutes later, the boat pulled away. I waited five minutes and then I got on the move.

The Jeep transported my boat twenty miles into the country to a property that had two acres of front yard with a white fence that stretched at least a couple of acres on back. Two men held the gate open while another one backed the boat through while a fourth man stood watching with his hands in his pockets. I slowed down. Then I shifted into neutral. The man with his hands in his pockets turned toward me. I killed the engine. One of the men at the gate pointed toward me. I rolled into the long paved driveway. The two holding the gate abandoned their position and ran toward me. The pockets man walked toward me but he pulled his hands out of his pockets. I waited. They jogged on. I turned the ignition but pulled back before it cranked. The men got closer. I banged on the steering wheel.

The two men slowed down but kept on toward me while Pockets walked on at the same pace. I shook my head and hit the steering wheel again. One of the men walked toward the passenger side of my truck while the other eased his way toward my window. I said, “Damn it all to hell, boys. I’m sorry for pulling over here, but she’s up and quit on me.”

The men looked at each other. Pockets walked onto the driveway. I nodded at him. He stared straight at me. I said, “I gotta call me a tow truck. One of you fellows have a phone?”

The two gate boys stared toward Pockets. He gave them one nod. The one near my window wore a buzz cut. He handed me his phone. “Thank you,” I said.

Buzz Cut said, “Not a problem.”

I tapped on the phone. Then I said, “You fellows mind if I step out? My back’s killing me.”

Pockets said, “Go ahead.”

I stepped out and then placed the phone to my ear.

“Yeah,” I said. “Yes, sir. I got a problem…”

Buzz Cut and his friend watched me. Pockets looked away but he glanced back a few times. The man in the jeep got out and walked toward us.

I said, “The problem? What’s my problem? Is that what you’re asking me?”

Buzz Cut and his friend inched toward me. Pockets took a step back while the other fellow quickened his pace toward us.

I said, “I got four assholes here who stole my boat.”

Buzz Cut and his friend rushed me. They pushed me against the truck and pulled their fists back. I lowered my face and then squeezed the button on my pepper spray can. They stumbled back. Buzz Cut fell down. The other guy leaned on my truck. Coughing and retching took over any other noise. The jeep guy ran toward me. Pockets said, “Stop!”

Jeep lunged at me with a kick as if he were kicking down a door. I sidestepped his attack. He bounced off the truck. I smashed him in the jaw. The impact sent him sprawling into the yard.

Pockets held up his hands. “Hold on, now. You can take the boat back.”

“Yeah?” I said.

He nodded while his eyes darted back and forth between me and his fallen men.

I said, “All right, then.”

I tossed Buzz Cut’s cell phone to Pockets. Then I climbed into my truck and backed it up to the gate. I secured the trailer hitch to the ball on my bumper. I drove to the driveway where Jeep and his friend remained on the ground. Pockets watched me. I waved.

Buzz Cut popped up at my window from behind a bush. I aimed my pepper spray at him. He pointed a pistol at my face. I stopped the truck.

Buzz Cut said, “That’s our damn boat. You’re leaving it.”

Pockets said, “Don’t do that, son!”

Buzz Cut kept his pistol aimed at me. “It’s our boat. You leave it.”

“Actually, it’s not,” I said. I stared at Buzz Cut. He wiped sweat from his brow and switched the pistol to his other hand. “But,” I said, “you do have the gun. Unhook it and I’ll go.”

Buzz Cut grinned at Pockets. “Unhook it.”

Pockets unhooked my boat.

Buzz Cut stared at me. “Just don’t come back around here. We don’t stand for thieves out this way.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I drove down the road.

I turned around a mile up the road and parked the truck. After ten minutes, I cranked it back up and took off back toward the thieves’ house. When the place came into view, all four men stood in the front yard while the boat remained in the driveway. They toasted beer cans together. I bounded through the ditch and then cut across the yard toward them. The group scattered like a flock of birds do when a cat leaps at them. Even Pockets dove for cover. I spun around in the driveway. I stomped the accelerator and left a track of rubber on the concrete. Then I parked and stepped out with my own .32 revolver in my hand.

When I walked toward the yard, Buzz Cut patted the ground for his weapon. I fired the .32 into the night air.

Pop!

Jeep and the other man hunkered down. Pockets stood with his hands slightly raised. Buzz Cut placed his forehead to the ground. I kept the revolver aimed at him. “This is my damn boat. Does everybody understand that?”

No one moved.

I shot into the air again.

Pop!

“Does everybody understand that?”

Pockets said, “Yes! Yes! We do!”

The others raised their hands and nodded.

I climbed into the truck and pulled it back up to the boat. Pockets hooked me up before I could get out of my truck. I got back inside and left the boat thieves back in my rear view mirror.

When I got back home, I backed the boat into the shed. Then I returned the .32 revolver to my little hidey hole in my backyard, tucked safely beneath a patch of grass. No more than a minute walked by before Glew called me. “Where you at?”

“The house,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll stop by.”

Glew hung up before I could respond. I popped my neck and walked inside where I grabbed a Coors. I returned to my front porch and sat in my chair, drinking and resting my eyes. I nearly nodded off before Glew barreled down my driveway with AC/DC blaring through his windows. I wiped my eyes. He walked onto my porch and leaned back on the porch rail. I looked at him.

“Stood up,” he said. “I met her through a friend. The friend talked me up after I’d made a good impression. I mean, you know that I know what I’m doing when it comes to the ladies and yet, she stood me up.”

I said, “Well-

“I sat in that restaurant for an hour and a half, Fairfax. Ninety-three minutes of wondering. Just waiting. I mean, I felt like you I guess. Damn it. I can’t believe it. Me? Stood up? I love them and leave them. The finest women around and she’s going to stand me up?”

“Glew-

“No, man. I mean, she wasn’t even that hot, really. I called her after I left. Nothing. No excuses. She didn’t even try. I mean…I can’t believe it.”

I propped my leg on my knee and waited. After stewing a while, he said, “You ever been stood up?”

I waited.

“Of course not. You’d have to actually get a date first. Right?”

I waited a while longer.

He chuckled. “Hell, maybe you’re right. Just sit and wait for some bad guys. Anybody show up, anyway?”

I removed the body cam from my chest and hooked it up to his phone. I played the tape of my boat adventure. He said, “Are you kidding me? I could have backed you up out there. Those guys. Man!”

I smiled and unhooked the cam and gave the phone back to him. He said, “Wow, man. I should have hung out with you tonight.”

“Nothing wrong with trying to find you a lady friend, Glew.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but I don’t know. I find them. I get tired of them. I leave them. It’s all a big cycle. You…you actually get things done.”

“We get things done,” I said. “I haven’t been acting alone this whole time. You’re fine and you’ll do well.”

“But aren’t you disappointed in me? I mean, I feel like I let you down.”

I said, “Nah, bud. You’ll ride with me on the next one.”

He swallowed.

“Won’t you?” I said.

He nodded. “You bet I will.”

“Glad to hear it.”

He stood and stretched. “Well, I guess I’ll be going.”

The car came down my driveway blaring AC/DC. The oldies station must be putting on a tribute tonight. Glew said, “What the? Who is…”

The lady stepped out of the car with a smile. She waved to me and bounced her way up onto the porch. She brushed by Glew and kissed me on the mouth. I kissed her back and squeezed her thigh. She said, “Oooo.” She turned to Glew. Then she looked at me. “And who is this handsome fellow?”

I looked at Glew and smiled. “Wally Glew, meet Roberta.”

She hugged Glew. He stared at me, stunned.

I said, “Roberta here had a date a couple weeks ago at that bar out on the highway.”

Roberta said, “That’s right. The rat I was supposed to meet stood me up. And then in walked this stud. And let me tell, you, I’m so happy that rat didn’t show up. Because me and this gentleman have shared a lot…I mean a LOT of things since then.”

I smiled.

She patted my cheek. “Speaking of which, I’ll be in your bedroom, baby. See you in a few?”

I squeezed her thigh again. She walked inside. Glew turned to me. “My whole universe is shattering.”

I stood. “That’s what I can’t figure.”

“What?”

“That woman,” I said. “She didn’t show up. And you come out here and complain to me? Where’s your spirit? When one doesn’t show up, you find another one. I thought every man knew that? Are you telling me you didn’t try to hit on any other woman in the place?”

Glew looked away. “No. I…I didn’t.”

“You get in too big of a hurry, Glew. Just take some time and stare at the sky. Take it all in and hold one thought in your head for a while. Slow it all down, buddy.”

He rubbed his forehead. Then he frowned at me. I grinned. He shook his head and pulled out his phone and started texting.

“I got to get inside.”

“Hey,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“You gonna be prowling tomorrow night?”

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s usually best to respond to those who want you around first.”

He said, “I think you’re right.”

Roberta’s voice echoed through the house. “There’s no TV in here, Mr. Fairfax. I need my entertainment!”

I said, “Welp. I gotta go. See you buddy!”

I walked inside and shut the door. Glew walked off my porch. I tore off my shirt and headed toward the bedroom. Roberta lay on my bed wearing next to nothing. I said, “Damn, woman.”

Bump.

I held up a “wait a second” finger at Roberta and returned to the front door. Glew took a seat on my front porch and lit a cigar. He tossed his phone off the porch and stared off in the distance. I smiled. The old boy gets smarter all the time.

Pleasant Times With Pleasant People

Ms. Shelly spent her Sunday afternoons doing yard work around her box of a two-bedroom home. She left her front door unlocked during this work. In over fifteen years of living there, she never had a problem until now.

Glew had done some spying on her nephew since Ms. Shelly’s sister suspected the young man of embezzling from the family business. Ms. Shelly called Glew up while we rode through town, looking for trouble. We visited Ms. Shelly who told us that someone must have entered her home while she worked in her backyard and stolen her music box. She dabbed at her forehead. “I’m never going to leave the front door unlocked again.”

I said, “Oh no. You leave it unlocked.”

She looked at Glew and then back at me.

I said, “We’ll put another music box there and place a tracker on it. Whoever stole the other one might come back and when they do, we’ll know where they go.”

She said, “Oh.”

I said, “It’s the only chance you’ve got.”

So we bought a music box off of eBay that looked similar to her stolen one. We placed the tracker inside. Ms. Shelly promised to stick to her routine and leave that front door unlocked. She would call us if the second box disappeared.

When we left, I said, “Damn. Stealing is bad enough but stealing from old folks. That’s low.”

Glew said, “Yeah. I knew this one kid in high school. I’m pretty sure he stole from this old man who lived on the other side of town.”

“Scumbag.”

Glew said, “Ah, but he told the funniest jokes. Always made everybody laugh. We didn’t have any money growing up, you know. I had this one yellow tie. It’s all we could afford. He told me it was the nicest tie he ever saw. I mean, he did some things he shouldn’t have, sure, but he sure made me feel like a winner.”

Three months rolled by.

Then Glew got the call.

We rode over to Ms. Shelly’s house on a chilly afternoon. She met us outside in her driveway. “Yes, boys. I was working in my yard and left the front door unlocked as usual. I’d just about forgotten about the music box but I had trouble getting to sleep and so I got up and poured me a glass of water. I looked over. Sure enough, the new box was gone. And I know saw it there earlier in the day.”

Glew clicked his teeth. “So our boy came back to the scene of the crime.”

She said, “It looks like it. Ah, lord. Excuse me.”

She walked back inside. Glew brought up the tracker on his cell phone. He said, “I haven’t opened this app in a month. Might take a little while.”

I looked around the neighborhood. Most of the houses looked similar to Ms. Shelly’s house. The yards were maintained well. None of the houses sat vacant. A couple of older ladies watered plants on their porches. One older man waved at us from his rocking chair. A couple of teens hung out a porch down the street. They spat into the yard and stared at us.

Ms. Shelly came back outside. “So did that gadget tell you anything?”

Glew said, “It’s still working. How you been?”

She stood waiting like he hadn’t said anything. Her curly gray hair stood away from her head. I smelled the air. Rain just might be on the horizon.

Glew tapped on his phone. “Ah. Man. This thing.”

I said, “What is it?”

She said, “What’s going on?”

“Damn,” Glew said. “I’m sorry. It looks like we lost it.”

“You lost it? They got away again?”

Glew rubbed his forehead. “I’ll keep trying. Oh, man.”

“Take it easy. These modern gadgets are nice but they don’t always work,” I said.

Ms. Shelly sighed. I stepped out of the car and walked around to Glew’s side. I looked at her as she stood like she was on her last legs after waiting hours in a line at Walgreens. I said, “You seen anybody around who might do this?”

She looked down at the ground. Had she heard me? I peeked at her ear but I didn’t see any hearing aid. Of course, they do make them smaller these days. She scratched her head. “I seen a fellow walking by a few times. He looked kind of like you.”

Glew turned his face toward me while keeping his eyes on the phone. “Something you need to tell me, stud?”

I said, “Kind of like me.”

She held her hand up in an effort to show me the height of this man who resembled myself. She thought he was a little taller by a few inches.

I said, “Did he look over at you or your house here?”

“He looked at everything but me,” she said. “It was like he looked around at the houses and the cars maybe but he wasn’t the kind to look you in the eye which is rare for a big fellow. I thought it was.”

Glew said, “Damn. This worked just fine a month ago.”

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “We’ll try to get Glew’s gadget here back on track. In the meantime, we’ll ride around and see if we can’t spot this tall fellow. How does that sound?”

Ms. Shelly watched Glew. Then she pushed her hair back and glanced at me. She said, “All right.”

Then she walked back into her house.

Glew scooted into his passenger seat and kept fidgeting with his phone. I drove us down the street. I’ll bet the yards looked no different twenty years ago- same fences and green lawns made up of weeds. I’d even bet that these older folks didn’t look much different twenty years ago either. In fact, I do believe I rode through here as a younger man and saw Ms. Shelly once before although I can’t be sure. I think it was, though. Something about her demeanor brings up memories of riding through here with my nanny, especially around Christmas time.

I pulled into a driveway on the next street over. “Keep working, Glew.”

Glew paid me no mind, still lost in figuring out that blasted app. I left him sitting there with the car idling. A man walked up the next street over. He stood taller than myself and when he turned his profile toward me, I could swear he might be a cousin of mine although obviously, he didn’t possess my handsomeness nor my ruggedness. Not even close. Not to insult the man, but…

Not even close.

Anyway, I walked along behind him, keeping twenty feet between us. He kept his hands in his pockets, stopping now and then and staring at a house for a few moments. Then he’d walk on. He also wore a shirt that probably cost him a lot of money. I don’t know clothing brands too well but it smelled of money if that makes any sense. Bright colors and a rare design maybe?

Wow.

This started to feel like following myself. I stopped sometimes and took things in the way this guy did. Of course, a good burglar should take things in but I don’t know. Maybe it’s pure instinct but nothing happened in my gut that made me think he was up to something. He seemed like a guy who just wanted to walk down the street and observe. Houses. Maybe he was in real estate?

I’d made it nearly to the end of the street when the man crossed over and started up the other side. This guy definitely wanted to walk. This wasn’t a necessary task for him. But lots of folks walk for pleasure. Ah, I shook my head. Was I making excuses for the guy because he looked like me?

I had to focus. Someone stole Ms. Shelly’s music box. This guy could easily be the one. He could be the type to walk into Belk and then smile to the woman behind the counter and put everybody at ease before slipping on that high-dollar shirt and sneaking out the side door. Then he walks up and down these streets and sees her working in her yard. Maybe he saw her enter her house without the key. He does this a few times, making sure it’s a pattern and not just a one-time thing. One day, she’s out there and the timing is just right. He walks straight inside back to her bedroom where the music box sits, waiting to be plucked. The guy slips out and walks home. He jumps on eBay and sells the music box for half the price and pockets the cash and then keeps on walking so that no one would think it could be him. Who would be dumb enough to return to the scene of the crime?

Ah.

The man hunkered down behind a hydrangea bush. I paused. A young lady watered her flower garden in her front yard. The man stayed low there, watching her. Yes, sir. He’s watched a lot of folks just like this. He’s probably seeing whether or not she locks her door when going in and out of her house. If he’s our guy, this shouldn’t be hard. He’s always walking around. He’ll have to lead us to his home eventually.

What in the world?

The young woman turns from her garden and steps around the hydrangea bush with her water hose in hand and sprays the man!

How did she know?

The man shields himself with his hands. The young lady laughs and stops spraying. Given the chill in the air, the guy has every right to be mad. However, the man smiles and approaches her. She slaps his arm in a playful way. They speak for a while. It all seems pleasant. The man starts to leave but she tells him to hold on. She runs inside and returns with a towel. He dabs himself dry. After she gives him a hug and a kiss on the cheek that lasts longer than I expected, he goes on about his walk.

She sprays her garden, looking back over her shoulder. I walk by her place. The guy is turns the corner up ahead.

“Hey, there!”

I turn. The young lady stares at me. I’m already looking back at her. So I grin. “Howdy, ma’am.”

She slides her glasses up her nose while she walks over to me. Her black hair hangs to her shoulders. She’s still holding the hose, almost like a potential weapon when she says, “How long have you been following Bo?”

I look ahead. The man has turned the corner. I look back at her. “Just today. His name is Bo?”

She lowers the hose. “Super nice guy. He’s been walking by my house here for months. Why are you following him?”

I shove my hands in my pockets. “Why does he always walk around and look at the houses around here?”

She smiles at me. I smile back. She sets the hose down and then ties her black hair back and picks the hose back up with the nozzle aimed toward my boots. She says, “Why are you following him?”

I look down the street. “Someone around here thinks that he may have robbed them.”

She chuckles. “Bo?”

I shrug.

She says, “I don’t think so.”

I say, “I get that you like him. Maybe have a crush on him.”

She leans her chin up.

I say, “But we can’t let that interfere here.”

She says, “A crush? Nah. I like him. He’s a nice guy but I don’t know. I don’t think he wants anybody. He’s a loner.”

This guy was too much like me. Maybe he is a distant cousin.

She says, “And a thief? Nah. He has this really stressful job. I think he’s a engineer maybe? He walks around down here to de-stress. I’ve seen him have panic attacks so bad that he has to lie down.”

“I see.”

“And did you see that Gucci shirt?” she says. “No way he doesn’t make enough money.”

“I’m sure you’re right. Thank you.”

She sprays her hose near me. A collection of drops cover a spot beside my boot.

I stop.

“Hey, now you answer me some questions, pal.”

I hold my hands up like this is a bank robbery. “Yes, ma’am?”

“What got stolen?”

I say, “A music box.”

“I don’t think Bo would steal that.”

I say, “I don’t either. See you.”

She sprays again, making the wet spot double in size.

I’ve leaned into a step away but I stop.

She says, “Who accused him?”

I sigh. “It’s not important.”

“Come on, now,” she says. “Tell me the accuser and I’ll let you leave.”

I say, “Eh.”

She sprays again, covering the ground on the other side of my boots. “You best talk.”

I say, “Ms. Shelly.”

“Ms. Shelly?”

“Yeah,” I say. “She lives on the next street.”

“Oh I know where that thing lives.”

I nearly choke. I clear my throat and say, “What?”

She sprays my boots until they’re soaked.

Thank God for waterproof footwear.

She says, “You’ve got some damn nerve, coming around here and accusing poor Bo of something because of a bunch of lies that old harpy filled your head with.”

I say, “I didn’t mean-

She sprays up into the air and then cuts the hose off, leaving a stream collapsing to the grass. “What a world we live in where good people get accusations and old bitches like her have apes like you running around spying on the only decent guy left. Get away from me!”

She sprays the crotch of my pants. So I take off. Half-way down the street, Glew pulls up. “Wow. Go swimming?”

“I wish.”

“My app’s working again. Hop in,” Glew said.

I got into his car. “So what did you find out?”

He said, “The tracker lands us right about…”

After pulling back onto Ms. Shelly’s street, he reached the third house up which sat about seven houses down from Ms. Shelly’s.

“…here.”

He parked by the curb. I took a look. “So it’s in there? You run the address?”

Glew said, “Um-hhmm. Check it out.”

The app produced the thief’s profile- Mrs. Ginger Rourke, widow, aged 68.

I said, “Are you kidding me?’

Glew said, “I looked up possible family but they don’t live around here-not on record at least.”

“So this old lady stole the music box from Ms. Shelly. But why?”

We picked her lock and entered the place. No one was home. So we took a seat and waited. I snapped my fingers. Glew said, “What?”

“When we were kids, we rode through this neighborhood. It was Christmas time,” I said. “We passed by Ms. Shelly’s house.”

Glew picked his teeth, watching me.

“She wore this scowl when we passed by. I remember I waved but she stared after us. My nanny cussed her when we turned off the street.”

“Huh,” Glew said.

We sat there for an hour before she pulled her tiny car into her driveway and walked inside. Glew flipped on the living room light. She put a hand over her mouth. Glew waved at her. She looked at me. I held up both music boxes. “So you like taking music boxes?”

She looked back at Glew. “What are you doing in my house? I’ll call the police!”

“Why did you take the music boxes?” I said.

She wouldn’t look at me. Instead she pulled out her cell phone and dialed some numbers. She put the phone to her ear. Then she watched us. We watched back. She spoke into the phone, “Um, yes. That’s right. I…need the police here right away. There are two armed men in my living room. They’re trying to rob me.”

We didn’t move.

She slipped her phone back into her pocket. “Okay. We’ll see.”

She sat in a chair and turned away from us. A minute later, she turned back to us. “Well…she shouldn’t have that.”

I said, “Why shouldn’t she?”

“That box plays ‘You Are My Sunshine’,” she said. “That old witch has never been anybody’s sunshine. She’s a cursed moon. That’s what she is.”

I said, “Maybe but why steal from her? It’s wrong.”

Mrs. Rourke shook her head. “She’s mean. She shouldn’t have nice things. It should sit here in my house for me. I’m not mean. My family isn’t mean. My friends aren’t mean. Pleasant things should be around pleasant people. I can’t believe you two brutes would take it from me. Oh…”

I left her house. Glew followed me. We drove down the street to Ms. Shelly’s house and knocked on her door. She answered a minute later. She invited us inside. I sat at her kitchen table. She had her hair in pink curlers and wore a brown robe. “What is it?”

Glew set the music boxes on the dining table. She patted the original music box. “There it is.”

Glew said, “Doesn’t that make you happy?”

Ms. Shelly grabbed her purse. She handed over two one-hundred dollar bills. We each took one. “Aren’t you happy now?” Glew said. “Doesn’t that box bring you joy?”

She placed her purse back on the counter. “Y’all should be going on now.”

I walked toward the front door. Glew stayed in the dining room. “So, you aren’t happy that we got it back for you? Don’t you want to know who stole it?”

She said, “Young man, you did your work and I paid you. Now get your tail out of my house.”

“Don’t be grateful or anything.”

“I don’t have to be grateful. I don’t have to do shit,” she said.

I chuckled.

“Come on, Ms. Shelly,” Glew said. “Doesn’t having the music box back make you a little happy?”

“Oh, what difference does that make to anybody? I asked you to find it for me. It was mine and I should get it back. You did and I paid you. Get out.”

“We don’t usually do these things for money,” Glew said.

She snapped her fingers. “Give it back then.”

“It’s just, you don’t seem like you’re happy about this. Or anything. Your neighbors say you’re not that pleasant to be around. Your sister says you’re never happy.”

She said, “And what’s she going to do about it?”

“Nothing. She just wonders why you’re-

“Why I’m a bitch?” she said.

I stepped toward the door, pulling at Glew’s sleeve.

Glew said, “Oh, I wouldn’t-

“Oh I know you wouldn’t.” She held up her hands. “None of you would ever speak your mind. Well, I do. I was being nice to you boys but even y’all won’t let me be that way.” She pointed to Glew. “I think you’re a skinny nancy boy.” She pointed to me. “And you are a filthy hillbilly that should live beneath a trailer park.” She turned back to Glew. “Now, I didn’t say anything. I was being cordial but you couldn’t leave it alone. No one leaves it alone these days. You ask for it? You got it.”

“Maybe I’ll tell you something, then,” Glew said.

She leaned forward. “Just go right ahead, little boy!”

I dragged Glew out of her house. He grabbed the handle but I pushed him back and yelled through the door, “Thanks a lot!”

Then I guided him toward his car. We got inside. I drove us away, making sure to lock the doors. Glew said, “Can you believe how hateful she is?”

“She’s not a ball of sunshine.”

“You’d think she would show a little gratitude.”

I said, “She did pay us. I mean, really, she’s right.”

“Maybe people like that should get ripped off for spreading misery.”

I said, “Nah.”

“Why not?”

“People shouldn’t be punished for their feelings or opinions,” I said. “Hell, she didn’t do anything to you.”

“Yeah, but it’s like Mrs. Rourke said. Anybody that spreads misery like that…shouldn’t have nice things.”

“Should we go back and steal the music box and take it to Mrs. Rourke?”

“Yeah,” Glew said. “Maybe. Well, I don’t know. Maybe we could just…throw a baseball through her window.”

I pulled over. “You know, that other lady sprayed me with a hose for saying bad things. Mrs. Rourke stole from Ms. Shelly because she said unpleasant things. Now you want to break her window because she wasn’t happy to get her property back? When did words start hurting you all so badly?”

“It’s just…we went through a lot to get that back. She could’ve at least acted like she was happy.”

I shook my head. “Bunch of sissies.”

“Oh, is that right, Fairfax? Sissies huh? Maybe we’re just receptive. We know how that negativity wears away on a person. You watch people all day long but you don’t even notice how those hateful words can form a cloud over a person. Geez!”

I didn’t say a word for the rest of the way to Glew’s apartment. When I pulled in, I looked at him. “You know something?”

Glew said, “What?”

I waited.

He looked at me.

I pointed at his chest. “That’s the nicest tie I’ve ever seen.”

Glew peered down at it. “Hey, thank…”

He thought back to his story about the high school thief and noticed my grin.

He said, “Go to hell.”

I placed my new hundred dollar bill in my wallet, got in my truck and drove away.

Look-Out Girl

Woodrow Hooper shifted in his chair. We’d been sitting on his porch for half an hour. Just when I thought he’d shift his way into comfort, he’d turn again. He noticed me watching him. He said, “Sorry, George. I just. Ah. I don’t know.”

I gulped some chicken soup from my thermos. “What is it, Woodrow?”

He frowned. “Trips like this. I don’t know.”

“Ah, you’ll be fine. Drive up to the mountains and hang out with your son-in-law and your daughter.”

He said, “My daughter ain’t the one that bothers me. I’ll have to listen to that yokel talk my head off about how the Vols can have a winning season this year. Hell, I don’t give a rat’s-

“Ha. Woodrow, I think something else is bothering you.”

He turned his white head of hair away from me. In his seventy-three years, he’d lost a brother to a car wreck, a wife to cancer and his best friend to suicide but every single strand of his hair remained on his head. He said, “It’s this house to be honest.”

I took a look through the windows into the living room of the two-bedroom abode. “Hey. It’s paid for. Right?”

He said, “Kids. Last time I left, some kids from the college over there came in and ransacked the place. Beer bottles and cigarette butts and the smell of dope and God knows what else. Hell, one of them hurled in the corner. Just an awful damn mess. Spray-painted stuff on the walls. Obscene stuff. I’m only glad my dear wife wasn’t here to see it. And who do you think cleaned it up?”

“That’s a shame.”

He said, “That’s why I try to keep these trips to the summer time when that fine university is empty. But my daughter insisted I come up this weekend.”

Woodrow pulled his jacket off the back of his chair and shoved his arms into it. A chilly wind passed by us like a stalker.

I said, “Well, if I was you, I’d just go up there and have a good time.”

He said, “I’ll try.”

I closed up my thermos and shook his hand. “And just buy you a Crimson Tide cap and wear it up there. That should shut your son-in-law up.”

He gave me a sneaky grin. “I’ll do that.”

I drove away and called up Glew. He left his office and met me over at the book store. We walked through, flipping through magazines until we made our way over to the cafe. I bought a regular coffee while he ordered one of those cappuccino frape crappay drinks or whatever. He flirted with the little curly-haired chick behind the counter and secured her phone number before we made our way outside.

I said, “You remember Woodrow Hooper?”

He sipped his drink and squinted. I waited. He pointed at me. “Got that full head of white hair?”

I told him about my conversation with Woodrow. Glew said, “Man, I hope those kids leave him alone.”

I said, “Hell, I don’t.”

He blew on his drink and then grinned at me.

An hour after Woodrow left that night, Glew drove us over to his house. I picked the lock and we stepped inside from the dropping temperatures. I opened the curtains and turned off the light Woodrow had left on. Then I opened up the garage door. Glew popped the trunk. We loaded Woodrow’s tools into it and I placed the bigger valuables down in Woodrow’s attic and shut the door. Then we left with the garage door down and the front door cracked open.

Two and a half hours drifted by. The orange and red sky faded into the crisp, starry night. I sipped my coffee. Glew had been toying with his phone, most likely texting that curly-haired girl at the book store. However, I looked over and found him sleeping. I rolled his passenger side window all the way down. That’s the great thing about the cold. Keeps me awake.

A group of kids walked by Woodrow’s house. They looked about college age but I couldn’t be sure. They paid the house no mind. I yawned. A bat flapped its wings against the backdrop of the moon. I yawned again. The college kids walked back by the house and huddled together. They were forming their plan.

Glew said, “Damn, stud. Turn down the AC.”

I slapped his arm.

“Ow! What are you doing?”

I said, “We’ve got some customers.”

Glew wiped his eyes. “Oh yeah?”

Four guys and three girls made up the group. One of the guys stood over the huddle. He stood tall enough that he towered over the others, despite hunching. I remembered guys like that from school. They always hunched like they were plotting something. The guys hovered around the guy, releasing plumes of breath or vape breath into the air. The girls stayed close by them with their gloved hands in the pockets of their vests and coats. Lips trembled. The hunching guy ushered them toward the house. One of the guys walked up and checked the front door. He turned back with a smile. The huncher danced around. The girls giggled. The group walked up the street.

Glew said, “Huh. False alarm. Roll that window up.”

I said, “They’re going to get their beer or weed or whatever and then they’re going to party in there. Window stays down.”

Glew yawned. “Shit. I guess you’re right.”

Twenty minutes later, the gang took a few looks around. Inside of ten seconds, they’d all entered the house. Their cell phone lights shined through the windows, hovering around like neon ghosts. Music blared from one of the phones. I made my way to the side of the house with Glew opening his trunk and pulling out several Lowes bags. Then he made his way over to me and set them on the ground. The music got louder. Laughing took over. Beer bottle caps came off. We let the kids enjoy themselves for an hour. A few folks walked by, taking notice but walking on through the cold. No one noticed us.

I said, “Let’s go.”

Glew crept inside the back. I walked around and entered the front door, shutting and locking it behind me. The huncher shotgunned a beer. The girls vaped on the sofa with candle light dancing over their laughing faces. Two other guys cheered the Huncher on while the fourth guy watched me, turning to stone. With the music blaring, I stood by the door watching everybody. Glew’s shadow flickered down the hall. I watched the guy in the corner who hadn’t moved. He could have been an old painting, placed in the corner of a condemned house. I looked at the living room. Beer bottles littered the floor along with candy wrappers. Tampons hung from the lampshades. A roll of toilet paper had been thrown across the entire living room. Someone had spray-painted the wall in the image of the local college mascot along with other drawings of more lewd objects. One of the messages read: “Got you, old man!”

The music stopped.

Everyone looked at me. The huncher stepped toward me. “Hey man. You lost?”

I shook my head.

One of the other guys said, “Who invited denim dave?”

Two of the girls snickered. The other one froze, her eyes so wide that the whites looked like two mini-globes. I peered down at my jeans and denim button-down shirt with the sleeves missing of course. I wore a leather jacket over the shirt at least. I looked back up.

The huncher said, “This ain’t your party, man. Move it on. Huh?”

I said, “This ain’t your house…man.”

The girls stepped behind the guys, except for the scared one. One of the other girls ushered her up with them. She grasped onto them and shut her eyes. “He’s going to rape us.”

The huncher said, “Don’t make us kick your ass, man.”

I said, “Were you kids really just going to desecrate this man’s house and just leave? I mean, I understand wanting to have a beer or two and listen to a little music. But all the stuff on the walls?”

The huncher laughed and high-fived his friends. Then he turned back to me. “It doesn’t matter what you understand, man. All that matters is that you’re killing our buzz. We’re not even on campus.”

He stepped toward me.

I said, “That’s right. You’re in the real world.”

The huncher stepped too close.

I fainted a jab at his face. He paused which gave me plenty of time to douse him with my pepper spray. The huncher groaned and fell to the floor, holding his face. Two of the other guys darted into the back, but Glew cut them off. The girls huddled together on the verge of tears. The frozen guy lowered himself to the floor, saying, “No. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.”

I grabbed the huncher and dragged him to the nearest closet. After shoving him inside and locking it, I looked at the others. Glew corralled the other guys into the living room. Then he brought the Lowes bags out and dropped them on the floor. I said, “All right. It’s real simple. You folks spray-painted a bunch of obscenities on this kind old man’s walls. You littered here as well. All we want is for you to paint over the drawings and then clean up the place. After that, you’re free to go.”

One of the girls looked toward me. “That’s it?”

I spread my hands. “That’s it.”

One of the guys said, “Bullshit. We don’t have to do anything. I’m calling the police.”

I said, “So you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong?”

The kid typed on his phone. He swallowed and looked back at me. “Not really.”

I said, “Not really?”

He kicked the wall. “We don’t have to!”

His friend said, “That’s right!”

I said, “If you don’t want to help, that’s fine.”

The two guys swelled with confidence. “That’s what’s up. We’re walking out of here.”

I clicked my teeth. “No. You’re not walking out of here.”

The one guy said, “I’ll call my Dad. He’ll get this straightened out.”

I said, “Let me make the call. I’ll tell him all about it.”

The guy said, “Yeah. Tell him about how you’re holding us hostage.”

I said, “Along with the fact that you came in here and ruined this man’s home. He’ll have to hear about that, too.”

The guy said, “He won’t care.”

“You sure about that?”

The guy said, “I don’t think he would.”

One of the girls said, “Look, let’s just clean this stuff up.” To me: “That’s all you’re asking. Right?”

I said, “Yes, ma’am.”

She scoffed. “Ma’am? What am I? A granny?”

I said, “You will be one day. This is something you can tell the offspring about. Maybe they won’t bust into houses.”

She stared at me. The two guys hung their heads. The scared girl got down and pulled the cleaning items from the bags. The others followed suit, one by one, except for the one guy who threatened to call his dad. He sat on the sofa and crossed his arms. Glew and I stood by watching the clean-up. The huncher banged around in the closet, demanding to be let out. I banged back and said, “No! Now shut up.”

The kids wiped off what they could from the wall. The “Ma’am” girl turned and said, “Well? Is this good enough?”

I shook my head. “Pull out the paint bucket, brushes and drop cloth over there. Don’t spill on the floor either.”

The guy jumped off the sofa and stepped to me. “What if we do? Huh? I know you can’t touch us.”

I said, “That’s right. You can’t touch me either.”

He threw a right hand at my face but pulled back just before making contact. I stared into his eyes. He swallowed and drew the fist back. Then he returned to the sofa. Glew opened a box of Goobers and ate a couple. He dropped one on the floor. “Good work, kids.”

I said, “Ahem” and pointed to the Goober on the floor.

Glew rolled his eyes and picked the Goober up and slipped it into his pocket.

The girls got a little paint on their clothes and whined about it. The guys just did as they were told and got the wall painted. It was half past midnight when the walls looked like new. “Ma’am” girl said, “So? Is this enough?”

I walked over and took a long look. “It could use another coat.”

She said, “Aw, come on! We have to be up early tomorrow!”

I said, “Won’t take you long.”

“Ma’am” Girl tossed the brush into the wall and stormed toward the door. I stepped in her way. She said, “What? You can’t touch me. What?”

I said, “Same for you. I thought we’d been over this.”

She said, “Why do you have to be like this? We did what you said.”

I pointed to the wall. “Job’s not done.”

She said, “So? Big deal. Some old dude gets a little paint on his wall. So what? This is illegal!”

“So is vandalism.”

She said, “Oh, well if that’s the worst thing that goes on, I think the world will keep spinning.”

I said, “But it’s not the worst. Thefts, rapes and murders happen every day and night, ma’am.”

She said, “Well go after those people, then.”

I shook my head. “It’s funny how you commit a crime and all I ask is that you make it right but then you deflect to other criminals.”

“I’m no criminal.”

I pulled out my phone. “One call on this bad boy and you would be. You’d be arrested. All of you. Did you consider that?”

She paused. Then she looked to her friends. They wore dumb expressions. She turned back to me. “Another coat.”

“That’s right.”

“Then we can leave.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She returned to her work. Her friends joined in. The scared girl painted over the spot where Ma’am Girl had thrown her brush against the wall. She didn’t get half-way through before Ma’am Girl stopped her and volunteered to finish it. After that, she turned to me. I nodded to her. She swallowed and helped them finish.

At one-thirty, I said, “All right. You’re all free to go.”

The guy on the sofa stomped his way outside, followed by his friend. The frightened guy made it to the door and turned back. Pointing to the closet, he said, “You going to let him out?”

I reached over and opened the closet. The huncher fell to the floor. He jumped up and stepped toward me. “You better watch your back. I’m coming for you, man. You won’t see it but you’ll feel it.”

When he stormed out of the place, he flipped us off with both hands. The scared girl and her friend sped by us. They urged Ma’am Girl to hurry up. She stopped though and looked at me. “Thanks for sticking to your word.”

I said, “Always do.”

Glew put his arm around my shoulder. “This guy’s good as gold.”

Then he tossed the empty Goober box onto the floor.

I said, “Damn you, Glew. What did I tell you?”

Glew started to pick up the box. Ma’am Girl bent down. “I’ve got it.” When she handed the box to Glew, she wore a trace of a smile. She turned to me. “You’re really looking out for people?”

I said, “We do. We’ll be camped out here until Woodrow gets back.”

“Oh? Is he the owner?”

I said, “Yeah.”

“Well, maybe you could tell him that one of us is…sorry.”

She whispered the last word.

I said, “He won’t ever know you all were here.”

She swallowed. “Thanks for that.”

Her friends urged her to join them in the yard. She stared at me. “I’m a…I’m a criminal justice major. I’m sure that’s hard to believe.”

I said, “Ha. Well, I’ve been a guest of the criminal justice system. You’re upstanding next to them.”

She grinned. “That’s…surprising. I guess, people can be reformed.”

“Not by a prison but yeah. It happens.”

Her friends called out to her.

She said, “When does he get back? Wood?”

“Woodrow. Sunday night.”

She left.

Glew said, “I think she’s too young for you, stud.”

I said, “Shut up, Glew.”

He left shortly afterward and then I picked up the cleaning supplies and placed them on the porch. Then I admired the clean wall for the rest of the morning until Glew relieved me in the afternoon. I returned on Sunday morning and waited things out until Sunday evening around five o’clock when Woodrow pulled back up. Several folks walked by but no one else made an attempt to break in. The huncher never showed up either.

I locked Woodrow’s doors and replaced all of his valuables. Then I sneaked out the back. I walked to my truck parked a few blocks away and rode around for an hour before driving back by. When I did so, Ma’am Girl stood on his porch with a plate of baked cookies. He invited her inside. She peered back and saw me idling by. She motioned for Woodrow to wait and bounced over to my window. “Chocolate chip?”

I grabbed one and bit half of it. “Hell yeah.”

She chuckled. “Thought I could do this at least.”

I said, “You can do a lot more.”

“I guess so. Um…”

“Yes?”

She looked both ways and leaned toward me. “There’s a blue house around the corner. That tall guy who was with us? He parties there sometimes and always leaves trash and stuff. I was present a couple of times I’m sorry to say.”

I said, “That blue house?”

She nodded. “I can…well, keep a look-out for you guys. I mean, you’re not cops but you’re definitely helping people out. Maybe you’re what the system needs.”

I said, “Don’t need a system. Just need people looking out for each other. People like you.”

She smiled at me with the street light spreading over her face. I took another cookie and said, “If you see anything else, just tell Woodrow to call George.”

She said, “George? That’s a great name. I’m Martha.”

I gave her a sideways look. “Really?”

She giggled. “I’m Andrea.”

I shook her gloved hand. “Great to meet you. Keep those eyes peeled, Andrea.”

I drove away, watching her wave to me through the side mirror. I called up Glew. He answered sounding out of breath with the curly-haired girl’s voice in the background, asking him what he was doing. I said, “Get your drawers on. We’ve got a new job.”

Pass It On

I bit a good chunk out of my cheeseburger while Glew slurped his milkshake. He focused on it to the point that I thought his head might bust right there in the diner. We sat at a booth near the back. A few other folks took up more booths while eight or nine folks occupied most of the bar chairs. I washed my burger down with coffee. “Don’t strain, Glew.”

Glew kept slurping. Our waitress brought the check. I reached for it but Glew beat me to it. I said, “Come on, now. You’ve got the last ten.”

Glew let go of the straw and took a breath. “Well, you know how it is. Given your clothes, you’re not worried about appearances. But when you’re a ladies man like myself, you have to show them a little something and every lady loves a man who will pick up a check.”

I rubbed my chin. “You keep going and you’re going to be writing child support checks…ladies man.”

Glew swallowed. “Why do you say that? Did somebody tell you something?”

I took another bite of the cheeseburger and shrugged. “I don’t like to gossip…”

He studied me for a moment. Then he removed his credit card from his wallet and placed it on the check. I said, “But…”

“But? But what? What are you talking about, George?”

I chuckled. “George? You must be worried. Ain’t nothing wrong with a child. You can pass on your fine lineage of skirt-chasing.”

“Come on, man. You don’t just open up that door and…oh…”

The young lady scooted her chair up to our booth. She sat down as if she were a nurse trying her best not to disturb her sleeping patients. I almost her to be holding reading material. Her hands were empty but they shook. She stared at her lap. I said, “Um…ma’am…”

The waitress came by and got the check along with Glew’s credit card. The girl kept her eyes down. I found myself playing along until the waitress dropped the check off and carried a tea pitcher toward another booth. I said, “So, um…what can we do for you, ma’am?”

She mumbled something. Glew said, “How’s that, miss?”

The girl looked at me. I stared into her eyes. She glanced over at Glew and then back at me. Her bottom lip trembled. “Okay. You…you two guys…I…somebody said that you guys could…”

We waited for her to continue. After a solid minute, I said, “Ma’am, I don’t know what-

She leaned forward, keeping her voice low but loud enough for me to hear. “Joe’s Storage.”

I looked at Glew who snapped his fingers. “Just down the road a ways. Right?”

The girl nodded. After looking Glew over a while, she turned back to me. “My boyfriend has been selling power drills out of a unit there. He got them from Roy’s Hardware.”

I pointed at her. “I know that place. So you’re saying he-

She nodded. “The number to his unit is 63. Here’s the key.”

She slid a key across the table next to my hand. “Just set him right.”

I said, “Ma’am, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to…ma’am?”

She walked out of the diner. I looked over at Glew. “What do you think?”

Glew said, “That’s the power of reputation. Let’s go.”

I said, “This ain’t good, man. The next thing we know, some blue boys might get after us.”

Glew stood and smoothed his shirt out. “Maybe. Come on. We’ll check it out.”

I shook my head. “I don’t feel too good about this. I mean, who was she? How does she know? Who told?”

Glew wiped a crumb off my shirt. “Take it easy, stud. When you help people, others talk. It happens. We’ll just check it out.”

I shrugged. “When they lock us up, you get bottom bunk.”

We headed for the door.

He said, “Fine. Now, what did you hear about me and child support?”

I turned back to him. “Well, it’s probably nothing.”

“Oh, come on. Probably nothing? What does that mean?”

I drove us over to Joe’s Storage. We idled through the rows. The units were about eight feet long apiece. Long rows of blue metal doors. I figured they were filled up with old junk and maybe a few decent pieces of furniture. We found number 63. I examined the key. Glew said, “Well, we could check it out. There’s no tail or anything.”

I scratched my cheek. “I don’t know, man.”

Glew said, “It’s up to you.”

I said, “Let’s sleep on it.”

I dropped Glew off and took my time getting home. I stayed up, mulling the idea over. The police didn’t scare me in this matter. I couldn’t picture them being bent out of shape over us roughing up a thief. I’m sure rumors had floated around about us but we hadn’t caused chaos in the streets by any means. Any people we straightened out would not be going to the police. So, I couldn’t picture any trouble from them, although you never know.

But who was this girl? And who told her about us? Was this a set-up? Did we already have a run-in with the boyfriend? She didn’t give us much. We could just walk away. Still, I knew Roy, owner of Roy’s Hardware. Roy and his wife were pleasant people who always met me with a smile. I could definitely beat this boyfriend down for robbing them. So I called up Glew the next night. He picked me up and we rode back over. We took a car Glew usually keeps parked at his parents’ house. It’s an older model that he only brings out for such jobs now and then. I mean, after all, the storage place could have cameras.

Street lights lit up Joe’s storage. We parked in front of unit 63 which unfortunately could be seen from the road. Of course, how often do passing cars pay attention? We zipped up our hooded sweatshirts, threw our hoods over our heads and stepped out of the car. I inserted the key the girl gave me into the lock and turned.

I looked behind us. No cars or people approached. I stood and surveyed the area. Glew said, “Wow. For real?”

I hunkered down and tried the lock again-nothing. I scratched my head. Glew said, “Maybe she got confused?”

We could drive off. But then, Roy and his wife had lost some tools. They didn’t deserve to suffer because this girl gave us the wrong key. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my picking tools. Glew kept watch while I worked the lock. Glew said, “We’ve got a visitor, stud.”

I let go of the lock and untied my boot. After peering across my shoulder at the car stopped at the entrance, I shrugged. “If it’s him, he’s made us and he’ll do something.”

Glew said, “Right.”

The car pulled by our row and onto another. I got back on the lock until it opened. Then I lifted the unit door. Glew shined his flashlight inside. “Do what?”

Shelves lined the walls, all covered up with power drills. At least twenty more sat in the center of the room on the floor. Glew said, “Wow.”

I said, “Let’s get to it, then.”

Glew popped the trunk lid and opened the back passenger door of the car. I grabbed the biggest stack I could off the floor and placed them in the back seat. We passed each other, loading up what must have been fifty power drills. After ten minutes, the backseat sat full to the brim as did the trunk. Then the white car roared up to our bumper. I shut the passenger door and trunk.

The boyfriend stood six feet five inches tall, wearing a white T-shirt and white jeans. He sprung from the driver’s side and raced around to his own trunk where he removed a wooden bat and brandished it in the air. A passenger stepped out. The man wore gray at his temples but he looked like an older, thicker version of the first man. He didn’t carry any weapons but he filled out his brown shirt with a lot of muscle.

White Shirt bolted at me with the bat, taking a wild swing. I took a quick step to my left and ducked under the attack. From there, I tackled White Shirt hard enough so that he fell back into Brown Shirt. Brown Shirt did not budge. The both of us bounced off him. Brown Shirt gripped my neck with hands that could wrap around a tree trunk. My head tightened like it would pop.

Fizzzziiitt.

Glew’s pepper spray hit Brown Shirt in the face. He eased up on my neck just enough. I wiggled free of his grip and laid into his square jaw with a left hook. Brown Shirt’s head moved but my hand thumped from the impact. White Shirt sprang up and jumped at Glew who sprayed the pepper spray at him but missed, dropping the can. I dodged a slap from Brown Shirt and retaliated with a right-handed punch smack on his nose. Brown Shirt paused, blinking his eyes. I grabbed the pepper spray off the pavement and gave him a second dose. Brown Shirt stumbled back, rubbing his face and sneezing.

When I turned to Glew, he and White Shirt wrestled on the pavement. I grabbed White Shirt’s ankle and pulled him off of Glew. White Shirt spun his body around and grabbed my…well…private area.

“Aaahhh!!!”

I dropped down onto my knees and shoved White Shirt’s bald dome into the pavement until he let go. Then I pressed down more, hoping for a pop. Glew pulled me off of him. When I stood up, I kicked White Shirt in the jaw. Brown Shirt grabbed me from behind. Glew pulled out his club and caught the bigger man in the temple. He let me go and stumbled back until he leaned on the car. Glew jumped into the driver’s side of his car. I hobbled to the passenger side and slid in. We took off.

Thump.

I checked the side mirror before we turned the corner. White Shirt rolled around on the pavement, screaming and holding his arm. Glew said, “What did we hit?”

My groin throbbed. I winced. “Good job, Glew.”

“Now, that’s something I don’t hear everyday. To Roy’s?”

“To Roy’s.”

Glew drove a little higher than the speed limit until I warned him to slow down. With fifty stolen power drills in the car with us, I didn’t see any intelligence in getting pulled over. Glew did as instructed. A half an hour later, we pulled up to Roy’s Hardware. The place sat empty and dark. Glew sighed. “Should we come back tomorrow?”

I took a deep breath. “Pull around to the back.”

Glew said, “Aw, man. I have a date later.”

Holding onto my groin, I gave Glew a look.

He said, “Come on, man. I need to work on my lineage…even if your chances for a lineage just went down.” He glanced at my lap and grinned. I shook my head. “Roy and his wife are good people. We have to do this.”

He threw up his hands in surrender and drove around to the back. We got out and piled the boxes of power drills up against the back wall of the store. Glew told me that he didn’t see any cop cars drive by. I didn’t bother to look. Once we got them all out there, Glew drove us to a motel across the street where we had a clear view of the drills. Glew said, “You know, I could have her swing by and then we go to her house and she has me back in an hour.”

I said, “Go ahead.”

Glew dialed some numbers on his phone. I kept watch over the boxes, denying myself any looks at my watch. There would be plenty of temptations for the next nine hours to do so but we didn’t steal these just to see them go right back. White Shirt and Brown Shirt could return and reclaim Roy’s property anytime.

Glew shut his phone. I looked at him. He said, “You know, that girl. The one who told us about the job. I never saw her before.”

“You mean there’s a woman within a thousand miles that you’ve never seen?”

He said, “Right? And yet, she came to us to tell us about this. She knows what we do. That means other people know now. Does that scare you a little?”

I shifted in my seat. “It was bound to happen I reckon.”

He said, “What about enemies though? She could tell those two things we fought back there. She could tell them our names. Where we live and all.”

I shrugged. “We handled them back there. We can handle them again.”

“Yeah, but one against two?”

I said, “That’s life.”

He opened his phone. Then he shut it again.

“What do you mean?”

I rubbed my nose. “Every one of us is supposed to fight more than one thing every day. We got family obligations and work obligations and friend things and recreation things. We’re hit from all sides. Bills don’t stop needing to be paid. Girlfriends don’t stop worrying or complaining. Bosses don’t stop demanding. It’s life, Glew. We’ve all got numerous attackers day in and night out.”

“So you’re saying we’ll be okay?”

I said, “I’m saying how it is. We will be okay until we ain’t and then, if we have anything left, we’ll pick up and be okay until we ain’t again. We’re going to do that over and over until it’s over. Hell, let them come after us. I’m going to take their balls next time.”

Glew let out a chuckle. Then he fell into a laugh. “I love your spirit, stud! Yes, sir. To hell with her. I’ll camp out with you. We have something going here.”

“Damn right, hoss.”

The sun inched its way from the heavens, its rays lighting up Roy’s Hardware store’s black and red sign. Roy himself and his wife pulled up to the back at seven o’clock on the dot. When they spotted the drills, they examined them and talked for a while, wondering how such a thing could happen. They looked around the lot and eventually in our direction. Glew scrunched down in his seat, but I just watched. Roy took hold of his wife and hugged her. They must have embraced for five full minutes, wiping each other’s tears away.

I said, “Just like them, Glew.”

Glew rose and looked at them. I said, “Things were not all right for them a few days ago. Now they are again.”

Glew wiped his eyes. “It’s a real sight to see.”

I said, “I’ll drive home.”

Glew yawned. “You sure?”

I hobbled around to the driver’s side. Glew slid over. I drove us across the street to Roy’s Hardware and pulled around back. Glew said, “Hang on, now. What are you doing?”

I pulled up a few feet from Roy who turned toward me with a couple of drill boxes in his hands. I said, “Howdy.”

Roy focused on us. “Hello? George?”

I nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Roy’s mouth dropped open. I drove us away. Glew said, “You think that was a good idea?”

I said, “Yes, sir. We’re passing on a lineage.”

“To who?”

I said, “To the world.”