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.”
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?
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?
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.
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?”
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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?”
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.