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.”

A Rewarding Career

I cranked the spark plug wrench on the weed eater while Glew’s phone played on speaker. I stopped and rubbed my shoulder. That catch might not ever go away. I cranked the wrench.

Ritch.

Ritch.

Ritch.

Glew said, “Easy with the wrench.”

I feinted a jab toward Glew who backed up with his ear pointed toward his cell phone which lied face up on my work bench. I set the weed eater on the floor and pumped the fuel bubble a few times. Then I grabbed the cord. Glew said, “Fairfax, please.”

He cranked up the volume on his phone. He’d placed a bug in the back of a dive bar that fed right into an app on his phone. We listened.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. When we walked in, I thought that dude was going to tip over and crack like a china plate.

Second Voice: Man, I know. I know. But you have to take advantage. I’ve been telling you that.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. We gotta take a week off and live it up now.

Second Voice: Nah. We should sell it, man.

First Voice: Not me, player. That Chippendale’s wide open. We can hit him again when we get low. What’s he gonna do?

I looked at Glew and mouthed the word ‘Chippendale’. Glew nodded and held his finger to his mouth.

Second Voice: Gotta play it smart, man. We can’t know that. And ain’t no way I’m hitting him any time soon. You know how it’s done.

First Voice: Yeah. For real. Let’s get to it. So we can get off and do our thing. The green dragon gonna take us places!

Glew lowered the volume. “Damn, man. I hope this isn’t true.”

I said, “Who’s ‘Chippendale’?”

Glew picked up his phone. “I’ll show you.”

I tried the weed eater a few times. I’d replaced the old gas with new and cleaned the carburetor and now I’d replaced the spark plug. The old girl still wouldn’t come to life. I huffed a few times and then I accompanied Glew for a country ride. Glew didn’t say much for a while, dabbing at his temples and puffing a thin cigar. “’Chippendale’ may and I stress that it may-

I said, “Right.”

Glew blew a smoke ring through the window. “It may be my buddy ‘Chipper’. I went to school with him. Really poor kid but he was smart. His real name is Chase Powell, but he had these buck teeth and everyone called him ‘Chipper’ like a chipmunk. He really didn’t mind, but you know, I felt for him.”

I said, “You would.”

Glew waved a hand. “I know, Fairfax. Bullies are good. They toughen kids up and yada yada.”

I smiled. “All right. So he was a smart kid. Now he’s a dealer?”

“Just pot. He works at some place out north on their computers. He’s a nerd who lives by himself and likes to smoke a little weed. It’s legal so many places now. Tennessee just needs to catch up.”

I tilted my head back. “Civilization is so convenient…until they attack something you happen to like. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about, right? Chipper’s your dealer?”

Glew turned up a Bob Marley song. I chuckled. Glew swayed with the rhythm and puffed that cigar like he was in slow motion. What all did he have packed into that cigar?

We arrived at Chase ‘Chipper’ Powell’s place. It was a quaint little blue house in the sticks. Kind of like something you might see in an old Claude Monet painting. Shrubs covered the windows nicely and the front lawn could definitely use a trim. Who knows? Maybe I could put the old weed eater to use once we got this done. After all this marijuana talk, “weed eater” gave me a different image in my head besides a lawn tool.

I followed Glew up to the front door. He rang the doorbell. No one answered. I peered through the shrub covering the front window as best I could but I saw no movement. Glew rang the doorbell again but nothing happened. I eased around the side of the house until I reached the back porch. Shrubs and vines concealed the back wall of the house, leaving a sliver of blue exposed. A sandal stuck out past a vine. Glew walked up to me. I pointed toward the sandal. Glew took off his hat and walked around. I followed.

The sandal shot back. Glew threw up his hands. “Hey. Whoa! Take it easy now, Chipper. It’s me, Wally.”

Chipper rubbernecked around a shrub at me. His auburn hair was trimmed very short. His face looked like a boy’s-incapable of facial hair. A pair of sunglasses with green rims covered his eyes. He stared straight at me like a cornered cat. I scratched my beard. “How you doing?”

Chipper said, “Not…um…just not…not so good…not cool, man. Not cool.”

Glew said, “Take it easy, Chipper. I was just out in the area and decided to stop by is all. It’s been a while.”

I stepped around for a better look. Chipper wore a long sleeve pullover. He pulled his sleeve down in a hurry but I spotted a bandage. Chipper kept his eyes on me. Glew said, “How’s it been going?”

Chipper rubbed the back of his neck. “Not so…not good, man. What do you want here?”

Glew said, “I don’t know. Maybe a little snack?”

Chipper pointed at me. “I don’t like this guy.”

Glew said, “Chipper. Come on, man. This is George. He’s my friend. You know a friend of mine is a friend of yours.”

Chipper looked off and lit a cigarette. I turned away from them, peering out over his backyard and then up at the sky. Glew made small talk. After ten minutes or so, Chipper said, “Hey, man.”

I turned back toward him. He held his hand out. I shook it and he gave me some kind of shake that required five moves. I went with it as best I could. Chipper looked at Glew while pointing at me. “This man right here needs a snack. Mellow him out a little.”

Chipper fell into a laugh that took off slow and sped up. Glew pointed at him and winked at me. We entered Chipper’s humble abode. Glew handed him some cash. Chipper studied me over. Glew patted his shoulder. “He’s cool.”

Chipper went to a back room, followed by Glew. Chipper came back out carrying a dragon-shaped bong. Glew said, “Oh wow, man. Don’t you have two of these?”

Chipper didn’t answer. They sat and enjoyed some smoky intoxication while I tapped my fingers on the arms of the plush chair I sat in. His house contained no beaded curtains or posters of Bob Marley and I didn’t see any Jimmy Buffet or Willie Nelson music although he did own quite a few old records. With their business conducted, Chipper thanked us and walked us out. With his sunglasses off, the sunlight revealed a small bruise developing under his eye. When we got back into Glew’s car, he said, “No doubt about it.”

We drove over to the dive bar. After an hour at the bar, I had counted two waitresses, one bartender and three fellows in the kitchen. Our voices on that recorder had to be two of those kitchen fellows. The bartender sounded like a grizzly bear with cold.

So we returned to his car and waited it out. When one of the fellows in the kitchen left, we walked over to him, putting on a drunk act and asking for directions to a motel. The guy told us everything he could. His squeaky voice did not match the voices on the recording. So we thanked him and retreated to a spot behind the dumpster in back.

We waited for over an hour. I moved my shoulder around, working out a cramp. “Damn.”

Glew said, “Why so stressed, stud? You should have toked with us…man.”

I shook my head and massaged my shoulder until it loosened up a little. The back door opened. I ducked down.

The other two kitchen workers headed for a white Camry. I pulled on my black ski mask. Glew followed suit. We stepped around the dumpster with only twenty feet between us and the thieves.

The back door opened again. One of the waitresses ran toward the kitchen guys. She jumped into the bigger one’s arms. They shared a long barrage of kisses while the other one played on his phone. We ducked back down. I removed my mask. Glew did the same. The two guys talked for a while. Without a doubt, these were our guys. However, they climbed into the Camry along with the girl and fired it up.

Glew stayed hunkered down and ran to his car in the next parking lot. I followed behind him, not looking at the kitchen guys. By the time we got into his car, the white Camry turned out of the lot.

Glew cut off a truck pulling in on his way out. The driver laid on the horn and yelled a string of cuss words at us. Glew lit a cigar and drove a comfortable distance behind the Camry. We traveled a few miles down the highway until the Camry pulled into an apartment complex on the north side of town. The shorter of the kitchen guys got out and walked up the stairs. I slid out of Glew’s car and headed on up. Glew followed the Camry back out onto the street.

I took my steps with a gentle motion. The kitchen guy reached the second story and walked to the first room on the right. I made it to the door. The kitchen guy held the door open, staring at me. There was no need in pretending anymore. I threw a jab at his face, figuring he’d step back. I actually caught him with it though, and then shoved my way inside. He drew back to hit me but I shoved him into the wall behind him. He pushed back with the strength of a mouse. So I gave him a big shot in his gut which dropped him to the carpet. I turned and closed the front door. A set of keys dangled from the lock. So I snatched them up and slid them into my pocket.

I dragged him to the living room and shoved him down onto the sofa. “Where’s the duct tape?”

He leaned over, holding onto his stomach. I grabbed his black hair and leaned his head back. “Duct tape?”

With his mouth ajar, he pointed toward the kitchen. I let him go and backed to the kitchen. Searching through the drawers with my hands, I prodded along until I felt a roll of duct tape that was nearly used up. I turned my eyes to it for a split-second. The kitchen guy rushed to the front door.

I bolted across the living room and grabbed his shoulder before he could get out. He wrestled away from me. So I dove onto his back. He went down just outside the door. He yelled, “Help! Somebody-

I dragged him back inside by his belt and then placed my knee into his back. From there, I took the duct tape and wrapped his wrists. My shoulder ached when I wrapped his mouth. I placed him on the sofa and pulled on the tape roll. It was empty. So I peered around the room. The guy said something underneath the tape. I grinned. “Naw, naw. You got rabbit in your blood, son.”

I found a lamp in the corner and unplugged it and wrapped his ankles with the cord. “I don’t blame you. If anyone tied me up, I wouldn’t think of anything but getting free. However, I wouldn’t take what isn’t mine either.”

Not anymore at least.

“So just point to the stash you took off of Chipper earlier today.”

He looked at me like I spoke Chinese.

“Don’t make a jerk out of me. Just motion with your head toward which room it’s in and I’ll get on out of your way.”

He didn’t change his expression. I sighed. “Okay. I’ll just tear the place apart then.”

Despite his mumbling and yelling beneath the tape, I entered the first bedroom down the hall where I found a pipe and a bong and a Bob Marley poster. Still, though, I found no stash.

When I came out, he yelled at me through the tape with large eyes. I took a few steps toward him. He nodded as if I were bringing him water after a trek through the Sahara. I turned and walked to the back bedroom anyway.

Inside, I found a queen-sized bed with his picture beside it. Another picture hung on the wall of him standing beside an older lady. A closer look revealed an undeniable resemblance. This was his mother’s bedroom. I chuckled. Ah, but he could have placed it in here. So I rummaged through her chest drawers and her closet and underneath her bed. I don’t see any need to tell everything I found in those places but I didn’t find any weed stash there either.

When I came back out, he beat his head against the sofa and stomped the floor, still staring at me with bulging eyes. I walked over and removed the tape.

Shrrriipp.

“Ah! Damn, man. That’s my mom’s room.”

I said, “Yeah. Now tell me where it is.”

“Dude, what are you talking about a stash? I smoke a little weed sometimes. Yeah, but I haven’t ever stolen anything. I swear, man. You got the wrong house, dude. I swear.”

I replaced the tape over his mouth. He leaned back and rammed his head toward my head with all he had. I drew back in time and then I jabbed him in the jaw. He fell back and then shook his head, stomping the floor again.

I checked the last closet in the place and under the sink and a few other places. Glew sent me a text message, letting me know he’d returned with a smiley face icon beside the message. So I walked to the door and looked at the guy on the sofa. “We got you now. And leave your dealer alone. Just smoke a little weed like a nice boy. Because if I come back, I’ll take a lot more than the stash back.”

He still gave me the same scared eyes like he didn’t know what I talked about. I bolted down the stairs and climbed into Glew’s car. “So he had it. Huh?”

Glew swallowed. “It wasn’t up there?”

“Damn it. You got to be kidding me.”

Glew rubbed his nose. “He went to the girl’s place and followed her inside but he only stayed a minute. Then I followed him to his apartment a few miles down the street. I searched the whole place but I couldn’t find a thing. There was barely any food in there even and the kid denied everything.”

I said, “Mine did, too. Are you sure they did this?”

“Hey, you saw Chipper.”

I said, “And the bug you had on was the one in that bar? You’re sure?”

“You heard the voices. They match up.”

I said, “Let’s hear it again.”

Glew played the recording on his phone again. I shook my head and had him play it another time. I cracked my knuckles. “Okay, they rob Chipper. Then they have to stash it somewhere. In the bar you think? The dumpster maybe?”

Glew pulled out of his parking spot. “We’ll go check it out.”

A fifties green Ford Fairlane passed us. The woman driving glanced our way. I said, “Stop the car.”

Glew stopped. “What is it?”

“Green dragon. The one guy said that they’d get there with the green dragon.”

Glew snapped his fingers. “The dragon bong. They took the other one.”

I said, “Did you see it at the guy’s apartment?”

“Um…no. Was it in there?”

I shook my head. “The green dragon is that car. That’s the guy’s mom. I saw her picture in there.”

I pulled the guy’s keys from my pocket. There was one old Ford key on there. The woman was nearly in the apartment. I ran out of Glew’s car over to the Fairlane. I shoved the key in the trunk lock and turned. When the lid rose, the street light illuminated the plastic that encased the stash in the corner of the trunk. I grabbed it and then shut the lid and tossed the keys across the lot. When I reached Glew’s car, the woman raced down the steps. Glew made it to the exit but a string of five cars rolled by. The woman raced toward us. Only her eyes looked a hell of a lot scarier than her son’s did. “Damn you, Glew. Get moving.”

“And get hit?”

The woman beat her palms on the passenger window, yelling, “What did you do to my son? What kind of animals are you? I’ll get you! I will get you!”

The final car passed. Glew tore us on out of there. The lady yelled after us and pulled out her phone, trying to take down Glew’s license plate number. Glew said, “So they had green dragon take the stash to them. That’s actually pretty clever.”

“And incredibly wimpy. Getting your mama to take all the risk.”

Glew coughed. “Well, yeah. Man, look at it just lying there.”

I turned my eyes to the brick of weed between us. “I reckon Chipper’s going to be a happy man.”

Glew said, “Shit. Like we’re giving it back.”

I watched Glew. He peered at me out of the corner of his eye. “I can take my cut. Right?”

I grabbed the stash and held onto it. Glew said, “Ah geez, stud.”

We rode out to Chipper’s house. At midnight, his house looked like a hovel eaten up by black vegetation monsters. When we handed him the stash, his mouth dropped. I thought he might have been having some kind of spell. Then he jumped into the air over and over like he had an invisible pogo stick beneath those sandals. He bowed before us like we were gods. We tried to leave but he insisted on giving Glew a cut of the stash. While he separated the portion, Glew wouldn’t look at me. “Don’t say it.”

I said, “Uh-huh. How do you feel now? The job is the reward itself, Glew.”

“Well, geez, stud. We help a lot of folks. There’s no reason we can’t take a little something for ourselves.”

Then Chipper returned with Glew’s reward and insisted on giving me something. I turned him down on pot, a cool rug and a few old records but when he showed me his brand new weed eater, well, I gave in. Glew dropped me off and said, “Feels good to get a little reward. Right?”

I admired my new weed eater. “You know, it actually does.”

I enjoyed a good night’s rest. The next day, I woke up at the crack of noon and after breakfast, I took a look at the weeds protruding from the ground around my shop and smiled. “It’s about to be all over for you.”

I primed my new weed eater and massaged my shoulder for a moment. I gave it a crank. Then I gave it several more cranks but nothing happened. I sighed. “I knew it.”

Indefinite Sentence

Glew’s client suspected Roger Oswell of swindling a few choice items from his office. Glew tailed the sixty-something Roger to the park. I rode along out of curiosity. We followed Roger along through the walkways of the park, occasionally glancing at the large lake behind it all. Roger pointed out the birds and other wildlife to his grandson who appeared to be around five years old. Roger patted the boy on the head and then pulled out his camera. He tried to take a picture but it didn’t work out for him. When he fidgeted with the thing, a figured dressed in a yellow jacket snatched the grandson up in his arms and hurried away in the direction of the lake.

I trailed after Mr. Yellow and the boy, followed by Glew. A group of teenagers walked our way. I peered around them but I couldn’t see Mr. Yellow. I worked my way through the group. One girl said, “Look where you’re going, jerk.”

Sure. Some creep sneaks a kid right by you and you don’t notice that but I’m the one who doesn’t look where he’s…never mind.

I peered around the walkway which rose up five feet above the ground in some places. I could go left or right but this guy got that kid gone in a hurry. I peered through the boards of the walkway but I couldn’t see any yellow. So I took a left. Glew caught up to me, asking, “How did we lose him so fast?”

“Go back up the other way. Let me know on the cell.”

He said, “You got it” and sprinted away. I followed the walkway to a dead end. After a long look around, I listened. Mr. Yellow couldn’t have simply vanished.

“Hey, there.”

I turned. Roger walked toward me with the camera in his hand. “Mister, you seen a little boy out here?”

I opened my mouth. Then I saw it.

The tiniest sliver of yellow caught my eye through the trees. Mr. Yellow had removed his jacket in such a hurry that he popped up above the edge of the canoe he’d taken from the lake’s bank. I jumped off the walkway and ran toward the bank. Roger called out after me, “Hey there! Stop!”

I made it to the bank. One empty canoe bobbed in the water by the dock. That same group of teenagers stood over it with the girl who deemed me to be a jerk easing her foot down toward it. I jumped into the water and swam with all I had toward the canoe. When I reached it, the teenagers remained on the dock. I grabbed the edge of the dock and pulled myself up high enough and climbed into the canoe. The girl pointed at me. “What is it with this guy?” She turned. “Holy crap!”

Glew had dove in as well. I paddled over toward him. He climbed aboard. Roger yelled to us from the bank. “Hey there! Hold it right there!”

We paddled away with Mr. Yellow’s canoe lost among a group of five other canoes. Glew said, “Aw, man. Like a needle in a…”

“Lake,” I said. “Like a needle in a lake.”

A man with a back as wide as a refrigerator paddled one of the canoes. A woman with a silver ponytail steered the other. Similar-sized men paddled the others. Each one wore a cap and sunglasses along with a white T-shirt beneath a life jacket. I said, “One of them will trail away.”

Glew said, “We hope. Damn.”

I looked back behind us. Roger waded into the water. I shook my head. “What is it with this guy?”

We turned back to the three canoe paddlers up ahead. They formed a line, separated by ten feet each, almost in synchronization. I couldn’t see any differences in them. The one to the right paddled away, turning at a sharp angle. I slipped back into the water and pointed to it. “Follow them, Glew.”

Glew gave me a thumbs up sign. I swam toward the other two. The one on the left stopped in the water while the other kept going. So I swam up to the stopped one and took a look. A middle-aged man with a long goatee stared at me with his mouth open. He waved. “You forget your canoe?” Then he fell into a roaring laugh. So I swam hard toward the other canoe. The paddler sped on like he knew he was being chased. I pushed my arms until my muscles burned. Then Roger called out, “There!”

I turned back to Roger who swam along, every bit of sixty-plus. With each stroke, he pointed toward the forested hill ahead. “Up in there! He’s there on the bank!”

I wiped my eyes. The kidnapper dragged the boy along with the hand, pulling that cap off his head with the fake silver ponytail attached and shaking the water out of it. Damn, the guy couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.

I used broad strokes on my way to the bank. Then I bolted up through the trees. I stopped and looked both ways. Then I looked ahead of me. I stood, waiting and taking it all in. Still, no signs of the kidnapper or the boy. Where could they have gone?

Glew ran over to me. “Dead end?”

I opened my mouth when Roger clapped me on the shoulder with a wet hand. I turned back to him. The old guy huffed but to make it across that lake at his age meant something. I nodded. “They’re close.” I looked at Glew. “You go right and up.” I turned to Roger. “You go straight up. I’ll take the other way.”

Roger said, “You got it.”

Roger took large strides up the hill but he tripped and grabbed hold of a tree. I steadied him. “Maybe you should stay here. Keep an eye out.”

Roger shook his head while water and sweat cascaded down his red cheeks. “No, sir. We find the boy. Nothing else matters.”

I smiled and made my own way up the hill, pausing to listen every few steps. I passed through the army of towering oaks. What was this kidnapper’s plan? Obviously he thought this one out. It was not a spur of the moment type of job. He had a plan. I pulled myself up by the trunk of an oak. The hill dropped off into a gully. I yelled out, “Hey, Rog…I mean, hey sir! What’s the boy’s name?”

Roger yelled, “Eli!”

I yelled the boy’s name across the gully. Then I walked down to my left until the gully dropped off, steadily calling the boy’s name out. When I reached flat ground, I waited. “Eli?”

A buzzard hissed from ten yards away. I spat and headed back up the hill. When I reached the center of the gully, I called, “Eli!”

Roger followed mine up with his own call. Glew followed suit a few calls later. Then I found the end of the gully and walked on ahead where the ground leveled out. Roger called out to the boy again.

“Papa?”

Glew bolted toward the voice up ahead. Roger did the same although he trailed a good ways behind. Roger knew his grandson’s voice. If they found the boy up ahead, the kidnapper was either with him or he’d let him go and now hid somewhere. I took a few steps. Then I stopped. I repeated this routine, inching my way along. Roger called out, “Hallelujah!!”

Glew said, “We found him!!”

I peered around, but I saw nothing out of place. I wiped my nose and stepped toward them.

Sniff.

I stopped. Ah, yes, sir. The spring brings heat and it also brings allergies. I braced myself against an oak. I must have waited five minutes, my nose running and fighting off the urge to sneeze.

Sniff.

I walked ten feet to the oak. I stepped around to the hidden side of it. It had been hollowed out. Inside there, sat the kidnapper scrunched up with fear pulsing through his blue eyes. I studied him. He smiled. I smiled back. Then I smashed him in the jaw with a right hand.

Bop!

The kidnapper went out like a bulb popping. Roger carried the boy toward me while Glew trailed behind. Roger huffed his way over and set the boy down. He pulled up his pants and pointed to the kidnapper. “This him. Huh?”

I said, “Yes, sir.”

Glew raced up and took a good look at the kidnapper. Roger slapped the kidnapper around until he stirred although he remained asleep. Roger stood and spat on the man. “You fellows watch him. I’ll get the police.”

I stopped Roger. “Actually, I think it’s best we don’t involve them.”

Roger took a step back, pulling his arm back to strike me. I held up my hands. “Listen, now. It’s best that we take this guy. We have a place for him that’s much worse than prison.”

Roger studied us over, one at a time. “Who are you fellows anyway?”

Glew said, “We’ve been following you, Roger.”

Roger stepped back, his hand on Eli. “And why have you been doing that?”

I said, “You took a few items from your workplace. You need to give them back.”

Roger looked at the ground. “Ah, hell.”

Glew crossed his arms. “That’s right.”

Roger pulled out his cell phone and tried to turn it on but nothing happened. He scratched his head and stepped over a few feet and kept his eyes on Eli. We stepped over with him, keeping our eyes on Eli as well. Roger said, “Hell, boys. Times have been tough. If I can just make my mortgage payment…”

I said, “How much?”

Roger tried to turn on the phone again.

Glew said, “How much, Roger?”

Roger shrugged. “Five hundred.”

I said, “We can help you with that.”

Roger looked at me. I cut my eyes at him and then back at Eli. He did the same. “Well, I’d appreciate that.”

I said, “Take Eli home. Give my friend here your address and we’ll bring you the cash. But come Monday, you make sure those items return to your boss’s office. We’ll put in a good word for you so you can keep your job. If he fires you anyway, just let us know. We’ll help you out.”

Roger wiped his face. “Thank you so much.”

I looked at Roger. “But don’t you ever steal from that place again.”

Roger bowed. “You have my word.” He pointed to the kidnapper. “What are you going to do to him?”

Two weeks later, I rode with Glew out to a little two acre property he’d bought a year or so back. We walked through a forest until we came to a clearing. Glew unlocked a door in the ground and opened it up. I stood back, ready for whatever the kidnapper might be planning for us. After a moment, we climbed down into the hatch of the underground bunker with our pistols drawn. We shined our flashlights on the worthless lump in the corner. He sat there, holding his knees with a collection of empty water bottles, cracker boxes, bean cans and Goober boxes strewn around him. Glew emptied the waste bucket in the corner and placed bags of bottled water, canned goods and candy bars on the floor. The kidnapper shook, shielding his eyes. “What are you going to do to me? How long do I have to stay down here?”

Glew said, “What is it with this guy?”

I said, “How long were you going to keep Eli?”

The kidnapper closed his eyes. I turned to Glew. “Do you think he’s ready?”

Glew smacked his lips. “I really don’t.”

The kidnapper looked up, his lips trembling. “Oh please. Please, let me out. I’ll never do this again. I swear to you! Never!”

I said, “Is that right? Do you pinky swear? Is that what you got Eli to do to keep quiet while you were carrying him off to God knows where?”

The kidnapper shook his head. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

Glew scoffed. “He’s not ready.”

I shook my head. “No, he’s not.”

The kidnapper yelled after us as we climbed out of the bunker. “Please! I pinky swear! My sister must be going crazy worrying about me!”

I leaned my head back in. “Yeah, that happens when you get kidnapped. Everything just stops. I mean, the world doesn’t. Just your world. Think about that. You got time.”

We closed up the hatch. Through the sun roof, we watched him stay in the same position, shaking his head.

Roger returned the stolen items to his boss. Unfortunately, his boss gave him two options- quit and finish out his two weeks or get fired. Roger chose the latter and he’d sent out his resumes. We helped him hang onto his house. I said, “What do you say we hire Roger to be a prison guard out here until he can find new work?”

Glew smiled. “Sounds good to me, stud.”

I said, “We’ll let Roger decide on the length of the sentence.”

We shared a laugh and drove away.

The Happy Followers

Glew stopped off at a convenience store just as dusk fell over us. I followed him inside and bought myself a cup of coffee and a package of powdered donuts. Glew got his usual Nutty Buddy and a peach Nehi. The woman behind us in line said, “What are you doing, oh brother of mine?”

Glew’s face lit up like a candle. I stepped out of the way and took his refreshments and paid for them. Glew’s sister stood around six feet-a couple inches shorter than Glew. She kept her blonde hair tied back with her two daughters corralling around her. The youngest one peered at me like I was a zoo exhibit. The oldest one hugged Glew. After his sister brought him up to speed on her life and how a responsible person lives, I inched toward the exit door when the oldest daughter looked at Glew. “Why does a man follow a woman?”

Glew chuckled. “That depends. Usually it’s a bad idea from what I’ve found. Of course, we’re men. We tend to go for bad ideas.”

The girl gave no reaction. Glew dropped his smile and said, “Why?”

The girl pointed toward outside. I looked out at the parking lot. A woman walked by, playing on her phone. A man followed behind her, staring at her back with his hands stuffed into his pockets. Glew walked up beside me and took a long look. When he turned to me, I nodded and left the store. Glew bid farewell to his relatives.

I followed the man out of the parking lot onto the sidewalk. The woman couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and ten while this man could be two hundred and twenty easy. She walked along with her head in her phone while the man’s focus did not shift an inch. We crested a hill until we must have passed the fifteenth house on the right. The woman stopped. The man paused, like a cat waiting for a bird to fly down to the ground for some dropped seeds. I stopped as well. I looked back. Glew’s jeep sat parked in a driveway twenty feet behind me. I turned back.

The woman slipped her phone into her purse and pulled out a set of keys on her way to the next house. She bounced onto the porch. The man followed along, still with his hands in his pockets. When she pulled the front door open, he pulled a hand loose from the pocket.

I walked toward the porch. The woman shut the door and locked it. The man stood by the porch, watching the woman walk by her window. He wiped his lips and then turned. He looked around and past me. Then he took a second look at me. I watched him, wearing a trace of a grin. He swallowed. I tipped my head to the side. He broke his stare and walked away from her porch to the sidewalk. When he ventured a look back at me, I walked toward him.

The man crossed the street to the other side and walked back toward the store. I followed along, keeping close. He crossed the street to a grocery store parking lot. I crossed the street, keeping an eye on him despite someone honking their horn at me. When he walked into the grocery store, I stopped. Glew pulled up beside me. I got in and he parked the jeep. I said, “Did you let the boys know we wouldn’t be making it?”

Glew said, “Yeah. They sounded kind of sad.”

“I bet they would. I reckon I am a little, too. Nothing beats night fishing.”

A few patters of rain hit the windshield. I said, “Then again, maybe this fellow’s got good timing.”

We watched a collection of folks straggle out of the grocery store, pushing carts and pulling hoods over their faces beneath the increasing downpour. After an hour, I walked into the store. I walked down the row of aisles, checking each one. Our boy did not appear.

I ran back outside where the rain had died off and hopped into Glew’s jeep. “Head back over to the lady’s house. He split on us somehow.”

Glew started the jeep and pulled into traffic. A row of nine cars sat between us and the street. I climbed out and jogged onto the sidewalk. When I crossed the street, a car honked at me. Another driver yelled out the window. I jogged to the other side of the intersection and then crossed the street. I pushed myself until I reached the crest of the hill. The front door of the house stood halfway open.

I raced up to the porch. The TV flickered through the window. Yet, I didn’t see the lady. I moved toward the door.

The lady walked by the storm door into the living room. If she hadn’t been slipping ear buds on, she would have caught me. I hunkered down, stepping off her front porch.

I walked around the side of her house. Our boy might be inside, hiding in a closet. Maybe he gave up and walked home in the rain. I nearly got a little sad at that thought. Then I walked around to the back of the house where a carport covered a grill along with a push mower and a bicycle. I walked on in, watching for movement but I didn’t see any. Glew parked his jeep on the street. I took one last look at the carport and then walked toward the jeep.

I turned back to the carport. White rails held the roof up. At the top of the farthest rail, a spot of mud hung there, looking like it might drop off any second. I smiled.

I walked to Glew’s jeep. He rolled the passenger side window down for me. I leaned in and said, “Open the back hatch.”

The locks clunked. I opened the hatch and retrieved my fishing pole. I switched my hook on the end of the line with my biggest treble hook. Glew cut the engine and stepped out. I whispered, “Follow me.”

We eased up to the carport, keeping our eyes on the edges of the roof. I stood in the driveway and pointed underneath the carport. Glew walked in and stared up at the carport ceiling. I kept low with my thumb on the caster. Glew leaned his head back where his ear pointed upward. I watched the roof’s edge. Glew edged toward the far right corner and pointed up. I winked at him and swung back and cast the hook over the ledge onto the roof. Once I had it set, I yanked.

“Aaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!”

I yanked on the line five times before our boy crawled to the ledge and then high-tailed it down the same white rail where he left a muddy track earlier. When he hit the ground, he bounced back up, charging me. I stepped to the side and stuck my leg out, tripping him. Glew pulled out the duct tape. I tossed the rod and climbed onto his back. I shoved his face into the ground and tugged on the treble hook lodged into the back of his head. He fought me, screaming. I said, “Give me your hands.”

He screamed louder and struggled.

I pulled on the treble hook until tiny blood droplets popped out of his head. “Give me your hands or this just gets worse.”

The stalker groaned and let his arms go slack. I wrapped five strips around his wrists while Glew wrapped the tape around his ankles. We carried him to the jeep. He moved less than a corpse. Once we had him loaded up, I closed the hatch. We hopped into the jeep. The lady inside opened her front door and stood watching us, holding one ear bud out of her ear. I waved to her. Glew drove us away. I said, “I’ll call the boys.”

We retrieved our boy’s wallet. Then we drove to his duplex apartment and took him inside to his bedroom where we shut him in. An hour later, we sat him in a chair in his living room. I said, “So, Mr. Darryl Pudwell. Now that we’ve established that you do seek attention, we’re going to make sure you get just that.”

Darryl stared at me.

I opened his front door. Four men walked inside. Glew closed the door after them. I said, “Yeah. These fellows right here have been needing something to do. They love to fish but well, fishing gets boring for any of us after a while. Instead, they’re going to keep you company from here on out. You can bet that at least one of them will be with you, sitting close by here at your residence and then when you venture out to the store or happen to creep by a young lady’s house. Yes, sir. These good men will be with you every step of the way.”

Darryl shook his head. “No.”

One of the boys put his hand on Darryl’s shoulder. I said, “Yes, Darryl. You wanted a friend. Now you got four. I’m sure you’ll all be very happy together.”

Glew walked out. I followed behind him with the four men standing around Darryl and smiling as if they were taking a family reunion photo. We’ve known those men a good while. I think they’ll make good friends for Darryl. After all, a former marine, a retired drill sergeant and two ex-cops need something to do.

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.”