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.”

Agitator Dog

Mrs. Emerson requested my handy man “expertise” one Monday afternoon. The agitator in her washing machine had gone out. So she called me up, hoping I could get to her right quick. I had a set of these things called “Agitator Dogs” lying around my shop. The “dogs” grip the teeth inside the washer agitator so that the garments move properly through the water during the agitation cycle. I arrived at three o’clock. She greeted me with a smile and apologized. “I’ve got a couple errands to run. Is that all right, young man?”

I nodded. “You go right on ahead. Um. Who’s out back?”

She waved a hand toward the backyard. “That’s my grandson Dale. Don’t pay him no mind. Him and his friend sit on the back porch and while away the afternoons. No good loafers.”

“All righty. See you soon.”

She drove her Lima bean-colored car away at twenty miles an hour at the most. A red Toyota Forerunner sat in the middle of the front yard. I walked through her kitchen to the laundry room. I peered through the window. Two teenage boys stood on the back porch. They took turns tossing rocks at the woods in the back while passing a silver flask between them. The friend called the scrawny kid in the red baseball cap Dale.

I unplugged the washer and removed the cap from the agitator. Then I worked the 7/16 bolt out with my socket wrench.

When I leaned back up, I looked through the window. A one-eyed beagle stood near the edge of the woods behind the house, barking at Dale and his friend. They giggled. I stepped to my right and looked closer at them. The friend filled a bowl with antifreeze while Dale called the old dog closer. I wiped my forehead. The beagle eased its way toward them. I slipped my wrench into my back pocket. Dale and the other boy knelt down. The beagle jogged to the back porch.

I whipped the back screen door open and marched onto the back porch and yelled, “Get out of here you danged mutt!”

I picked up a rock from their pile and tossed a handful toward the dog who scurried away. The friend flung the antifreeze out of the bowl. Dale stared at me.

I said, “A dog just like that mutt got a hold of my little sister one time. You can’t trust them.”

Dale and his friend looked at each other and giggled. I tossed a few more rocks and stomped off the porch toward the beagle who cowered and took off through the woods.

When I climbed back onto the porch, Dale said, “Did you get ’em on outta here?” in his toughest voice while his friend doubled over in silent laughter. I held a straight face. “You damn right I did. You boys be careful out here now. You never know what will crawl up.”

Dale said, “Hey!”

Then he got up in my face. His whiskey breath tainted my nostrils. He said, “You got it, partner.”

I headed back inside where I sent a text message to Glew, indicating that I needed him to come over to Mrs. Emerson’s house. Then I removed the agitator from the washer and pulled out the cam and took out the old agitator dogs. After inserting the new dogs, I replaced the cam and set the agitator back inside the washer. I took a look out back. The two boys wore wide grins while playing with their phones. So I started the washer for a test run and crept over to Mrs. Emerson’s pantry and poked around. After grabbing a bag of sugar, I took one more peek out back. They stared into those phones like zombies smacking their lips over a fresh brain.

I walked outside to the Forerunner and opened the gas tank and removed the cap. I slid my finger through the cover and poured in half the bag of sugar. Then I crumpled up the remaining contents and returned inside.

Dale stood beside the washer, staring at me. I held the sugar bag behind me. He said, “What you doing, partner?”

His friend stepped inside with the flask to his lips. After seeing me, he slipped it into his jean pocket and wiped his mouth. I looked back at Dale. “That mutt didn’t pop back up. Did he?”

Dale said, “He sure did. You want to come straighten him out?”

I walked toward the back door but Dale’s friend stepped into my path. Dale coughed. “What you got behind your back there?”

I tried to peer over the friend’s shoulder. Dale snatched the sugar bag from my hand and ducked into the center of the kitchen. His friend stayed in place, watching me with bloodshot eyes. I turned back to Dale. He flipped a pocket knife open. So I stepped away from his friend until I reached the dryer. Dale said, “What are you doing with Grandma’s sugar? Huh?”

The washer rumbled. My heart beat with each spin. I placed my hand on my hip with the wrench hanging out of my pocket. “That’s quite a knife you got there, Dale.”

Dale looked at his friend. Then he cut his eyes back toward me. “What were you doing with this sugar? Huh, sweet man?”

His friend chuckled and turned the flask back up to his lips. Dale pointed the knife’s tip at me. “Answer me, sweetie pie!”

I shrugged. “The fact is…”

Dale held the knife higher. “Yeah?”

I patted the washer. “Sugar can be a good test for agitation. I was going to start it up here and then pour in the sugar and watch it.”

His friend spewed whiskey onto the wall, followed by silent laughter. Dale tightened his lips. His friend cackled. Dale broke into a laugh as well. Then he closed the knife and walked over to me. “You know something…you are just the sweetest man. Stay sweet, cutie pie.”

They started out the back door. The front door eased open. I kept my hand near the wrench. Dale and his friend turned. A barrel-chested man stepped through, trailed by that one-eyed beagle. His salt-and-pepper beard covered his puffy jaws and his thick neck. He pointed at me but turned his eyes toward Dale. “Who the hell is this?”

Dale chuckled. “He’s just a sweet man. Grandma wanted him to fix the washer. How you doing, Art?”

Art stared at me. “I seen you pouring sugar into that Forerunner’s gas tank, you know.”

My throat tightened. Dale’s friend stepped toward me. “What?”

Dale blocked him with a frail arm. “Do what?” Dale looked at me. “Is that what you were doing, man?”

Dale brought his knife back out. Art kept staring at me. “You thought you was sly. Didn’t you, boy?”

Dale’s friend threw his cap on the floor. “Get him out back! Right now!”

Dale waved me toward the back door. Art pulled a pistol from his belt. He motioned me toward the back door. “Get on out there, boy. Go on.”

I held up my hands and followed Dale outside. His friend stood in the yard, waving me toward him. “Get your ass down here!”

I stopped. “This really isn’t necessary, fellows.”

The friend pointed to the ground. “Get down here! You’re going down! And then you’re sucking that sugar out of Dale’s gas tank!”

I looked at him. “You sure you want this?”

Art growled. “Get on down there. You owe him this.”

I chuckled. “I owe him a lot more than that.”

Art scratched his chin. “What does that mean?”

Dale said, “Ah, hell” and shoved me. Even with the whiskey in him, he didn’t get me off the porch. I stepped down into the yard.

Dale’s friend swung on me with a right hand that I saw coming from miles away. I sidestepped the shot and then stared at him. The friend threw a left which I dodged and then a right down low which I blocked. The beagle barked at us. I stepped this way and that with the boy throwing with everything he had. He grabbed my wrist but I stepped into him with my shoulder until he lost his balance and fell to the ground.

Dale jumped off the porch. “You stand there and take your beating like a man!”

Art smirked at me with a light glowing in his eyes. The friend stood and wiped his jeans. “That’s right. You did the deed. Now you got to pay.”

I said, “Speaking of deeds…Art, my good man. Why don’t you smell that black bowl over there?”

The friend’s eyes bulged. Dale wiped his mouth. Art said, “Do what? What for?”

I said, “Go on over and take a whiff.”

Dale walked over to the bowl and leaned down. Art intercepted though and eased him back. “What’s your rush, Dale?”

Dale looked back at his friend who placed his hands on his hips. Art sniffed the bowl. “Antifreeze?”

I pointed at his beagle. “That’s what these two fine young men were going to feed your dog there.”

Art grimaced at Dale. “Is that right?”

Dale’s friend charged at me. “Get him!”

I stepped to the side and kept my leg in place. The drunken fool tripped over it, bouncing his head off the ground. Dale started for me. Art grabbed him by his collar and shoved him into the back wall of the house, aiming his pistol at his jaw. “You was going to poison my dog, boy?”

Dale’s friend ran to the porch. “Please, mister. This guy’s lying. Let Dale go.”

Art dug the barrel into Dale’s cheek. Dale held his mouth open. A sob left his throat.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Someone knocked on the front door. I said, “I reckon we might want to see who’s there. Maybe another nosy neighbor called the law to us.”

Art leaned back and shoved Dale into a chair. Then he instructed the friend to sit on the porch. With the pistol trained on them, he said, “You. Go on up there and check it out. I’m studying up on what to do with these boys.”

I stepped onto the porch and wiped my boots off. I smiled at Dale and his friend who stared at me like two spoiled kids being shipped off to a military academy.

I answered the door. Glew tipped his Panama hat at me. “You rang, stud?”

I explained the situation to him. He rubbed his chin for a minute. I looked back at the screen door. No one watched us. Glew pointed into the air. “I’ve got it.”

We stepped onto the back porch where Art still held the pistol on the two boys. Before he could speak, I said, “This here is a friend of mine. We talked the situation over and we decided that there’s really only one solution to this problem.”

After explaining our idea to Art, the boys hung their heads. Art smiled and put his pistol into his belt. “I’d say that sounds just fine.”

I climbed into the Forerunner while Dale got into the driver’s seat. He placed the keys in the ignition. Then he placed his head into his hand. “Please, mister. This just ain’t right.”

“Aw, now. I think you know it is. It will cost you money and time and some memories. That’s what you were about to do to that poor pooch, too.”

Dale shook his head. “Listen. Let me pay you or something. I’ll pay you-”

I said, “No two ways about it, Dale. We pulled your asses out of the hot water. Art wanted to shoot you. You’re getting off easy.”

“But I worked for this ride. A whole summer. I worked every day.”

I shrugged. “That’s how it goes. Now start the engine.”

Dale shook his head. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
I said, “Let’s go.”

He shook his head and leaned on the steering wheel. “Please. You do it. Huh?”

“No. You.”

Glew honked his horn. Dale’s friend sat in the passenger side of his car. Art watched from his porch with a fresh wad of chewing tobacco in his jaw. Glew blew the horn again.

Dale started the engine. Several sobs later, he drove on through Mrs. Emerson’s yard out onto the road. I said, “There’s no telling when it will happen. You’ll go to start it and then it’ll just sieze up on you. Then you’ll take it to the shop and they’ll tell you that someone got you. Of course, had that poor dog drank that antifreeze, it wouldn’t have hit him right away either. It would probably take days or even a week of the poor creature howling from the stomach pains. This is how it goes, Dale. But you know, when all’s said and done, your grandma won’t know about this. Your parents won’t know the real truth of it. You’ll just be a victim. Oh sure. You might be out a car for a while but you’ll get another one. So, dry your pathetic tears. And I mean, dry them up now.”

Dale wiped his face a number of times before we reached his house. He climbed out of the jeep and stumbled into his house, followed by his friend who looked back at us once and shook his head before disappearing inside. Glew drove me back, mostly in silence. I explained to Mrs. Emerson that the washer should be good as new. She paid me fifty dollars.

The last I heard, old Dale caught the bus to school which some would find embarrassing, considering he was a senior. Mrs. Emerson told me he stopped visiting her which didn’t appear to bother her. The boy may wind up in jail or he might fly right but that old beagle hound stays close to Art’s house nowadays. I make it a point to stop by once a week and drop him off a bag of doggy treats. I sit on the porch with them. Art chews his tobacco. I chew my beef jerky and the old beagle chews his treats. And we all think about who else we can agitate.

The Green Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bop!

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

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

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

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

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

Thunk!

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

Thump!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoyment

The corner house didn’t stand out to the naked eye. It did stand out to me and Glew though, for one reason. In recent months, thieves hit every house on this particular street, except the corner house, occupied by Mr. Woodard. Pushing seventy years of age, he’d lived there for three years and had recently been joined by his daughter Vickie, who’d just worked her way through a messy divorce. They planned a vacation in the mountains for the weekend. So for the first time in three years, the house sat vacant, starting with their departure at seven o’clock on Friday night. Woodard received a modest pension and with another mouth to feed, thieves shouldn’t add to his concerns. A man should enjoy his retirement at least. So I now sat on the floor of Vickie’s bedroom. After one hour of vacancy, someone checked the windows. As a courtesy for this fool, I left the back window leading to the laundry room unlocked.

When the window came up, I stepped toward the corner of Vickie’s bedroom and sent a text message to Glew. A quick look around the house provided me with only two targets for any five-finger discount seekers- a TV with a forty-eight inch screen and a box of jewelry on Vickie’s dresser. The footsteps proved to be light, like tennis shoes on cotton. Any thief worth his salt would scoop up the jewelry first and then get the bigger item. Yet, when he crept into Vickie’s room, he held the massive TV under one arm. When he picked up the jewelry box, I shined my flashlight into his eyes. “Howdy.”

This rascal tossed the TV at me. I dove at it, dropping my flashlight. I caught the thing at the floor level, propping the bottom of it on the twin bed. I slid it onto the bed and ran into the living room where the thief tossed the front door open and bolted from the house with the jewelry box in hand.

I took off outside after the thief who ran to the next house and jumped over their chain-link fence into the backyard. I ran at a steady pace, hoping the family dog might bite into him, but once I hopped the fence, I sighed at the empty yard. I reached the middle of the yard before the thief leaped over the other side of the fence and then hopped over the next fence-a wooden structure. I hopped over the first fence and then grabbed onto the wooden fence and pulled until my arms burned. The thief peered back at me and then headed toward the other side of the wooden fence but I took advantage of a burst of energy and gained on him, reaching for his jacket. The thief jumped onto the fence about four feet in the air and used his leverage to turn a flip over my head where he ended up behind me.

“Damn.”

The thief landed with precision and darted to the wooden fence gate which he unlocked. I sprinted after him but he slipped through and took off. I slammed the wooden door open and kept on with the chase. A side window light came on behind me.

The thief raced his way across the street and into a front yard. I followed along until the thief stopped behind the tree on the east side of the yard. A police cruiser crawled by. I sneaked behind a bush about twenty feet from the robber. Thank God I closed Woodard’s front door. The cruiser idled by. Someone might have called them but the cruiser didn’t even shine the spot light. So I doubted it. The thief knelt beside the tree, not even breathing hard. I sucked in several deep breaths until the cruiser made its way out of the street, turning right. I got into a running position and wiped my forehead.

The thief sprinted toward the end of the street to the left. I tripped on my take off. So he put a good stretch of pavement between us. I pushed harder with my heart hammering away. The thief reached another street crossing where a row of three cars passed. So I picked up a chunk of sidewalk and hurled it toward him.

Thack!

The rock caught the thief in the calf. He moaned and then hobbled ahead. Once the cars got turned out of the way, a kid came into view on a bike. The thief turned the bike over. Once he had the kid on the ground, he jumped on and pedaled down the sidewalk. I bolted hard until I reached the kid. He couldn’t have been over ten years old. I helped him up, keeping sight of the thief. The thief rode toward a corner with no place to go other then up the street and back this way or the woods. The kid said, “That man stole my bike!”

I patted his shoulder. “Do me a favor, kid. Go up this alley right here and whistle when he rides past you. You got it?”

“What? Ugh.”

I said, “Go up this alley here and whistle when he rides past you. Go.”

The kid jogged through the alley. I ran down the previous street. Just before I reached the stop sign, the kid whistled. The thief stopped short of me and tossed the jewelry box into the street. I tackled him and the bike all in one heap.

Screeech!!!

Glew drove onto the curb. I kept the thief in place. The jewelry box lay in pieces behind Glew’s car.

I threw my hands up. “Damn you, Glew!”

Glew splayed his hands. “I didn’t…I don’t know, Fairfax…I didn’t-”

I said, “Pick up the pieces for God’s sake.”

Glew bent down and gathered up the remains. I kept my boot on the thief’s chest. He watched me like I might kill him. I gathered my breath. The kid ambled beside a tree at the end of the alley. I waved him over. The kid stared at me. I said, “If you want your bike, kid, come on.”

The kid tip-toed over. I picked up the bike and rolled it his way. It wobbled to the ground. He picked it up. Then I picked up the thief by the chain around his neck and shoved him against Glew’s car. His eyes grew. I spun him around and removed his wallet. I shook my head. “Damn, Leonard Spittle. Nine bucks to your name and you’re no good as a thief. Maybe you should find a job, Leonard. Now, you get home and think about what you’ve done like a good boy.”

Glew rose up from his task and said, “Very motherly tone, stud.”

I spun Leonard around. He kept watching me. “You’re not arresting me?”

I handed him back his wallet. I said, “Just get yourself a job or stay at the damn house. You got it?”

Leonard backed away. The kid stayed behind me on his bike. I watched Leonard and drew a line across my neck. Then he ran away. I turned to the kid. “Get on home, kid. These streets are no place for you.”

The kid said, “But I live there,” and pointed several streets ahead. I said, “Glew! Give the boy a ride home and meet me in the morning.”

The kid said, “Are you a super-hero?”

I chuckled. “Get in the car with Glew here. Don’t let his looks deceive you. He’s actually pretty soft.”

Glew placed the remains of the jewelry box into his back seat and shut the door. “Come on, kid. That guy’s not a super-hero. He doesn’t look good in spandex.”

The kid laughed and climbed inside with Glew. I returned to Woodard’s house and placed his TV back in the living room on the entertainment center. After that, I locked the place up, got back in Vickie’s bedroom and waited.

The place sat still for the rest of the night and Glew saw no action Saturday and I didn’t see any Saturday night. I found a jewelry box just like Vickie’s and we switched them out on Sunday afternoon. She would wonder about something happening but that would be it. Glew left around five o’clock Sunday night while I waited out the duration. At six-thirty, the back window came up.

I eased my way to the window. A young man heaved himself up through it. Once he landed on his feet, he peered up at me. I said, “Damn, Leonard. Get a job.”

I popped his jaw with a right hand and then dumped him back through the window. The front door opened.

I jumped through the same window myself. Leonard crawled away. I eased the window shut and then peered through the side window into the living room. Mr. Woodard took a seat in his recliner. Vickie kissed his forehead and ventured to her bedroom where she placed her luggage on the floor. Then she patted her jewelry box. She paused. I peered down the street. Leonard turned toward me and flipped me the bird before scampering away. When I turned back toward the window, Vickie removed her necklace and took a look at it in the mirror, beaming. She placed it into her jewelry box. Then she walked toward me. I ducked down behind a bush. She opened the window. After a moment, her shadow disappeared. I peered back over the ledge. She lay on the bed with her arms spread as if she made a snow angel.

Mr. Woodard popped his head in her room. “There’s a John Wayne on. Want to watch a movie with your old man? A girl needs time with her daddy.”

Vickie yawned. “You didn’t just drive eight hours, Daddy. Besides I’ve got that interview tomorrow. Your little girl needs to get to work.”

Smart girl.

I hope Leonard takes her advice. Of course, if he doesn’t I won’t mind too much. A man should enjoy his hobbies.

Catch You on Payday

I washed down my last bite of gas station pizza with a hot gulp of black coffee from my thermos. That’s when the man came into view. He wore a bulky tan jacket, jeans and boots- the right sole flapping with each step. His breath plumed into the air while he kept his face in his phone. I scoffed. “Uh-huh.”

The poor slob’s breaths grew into thicker plumes like clouds from an old factory that had seen its best days decades ago. He stopped and peered at the gas station. Then he directed his steps toward it and took a seat on the sidewalk, leaning his old back against the wall.

“All right, hoss.”

I slid the gear-shifter into drive and pulled across the street. When I reached the parking lot, I stopped.

A man walked over to the older man propped against the wall. He must have stood about six feet four inches and wore enough muscle on him to give any attacker pause. He took hold of the older man’s collar. The older man dropped his phone onto the sidewalk. A movie played on the screen. The big man jerked him around a few times. I unlocked my door and pulled the latch.

A cruiser pulled a car over a ways up the road. Those flashing blue lights kept me in my seat.

The older man dug into his jacket pocket and handed a wad of bills over to the bigger man. The bigger man eased up and counted it. Then he patted the older man’s chest hard and walked away, saying, “I’ll catch you on payday, pops.”

The big man climbed into a Ford F-150 which sat high, thanks to a lift kit and forty-four inch tires. He rumbled away from the gas station and honked his horn. I shook my head and called up Glew.

A week later, I parked at the same spot across the street from the gas station. Glew sat parked at a liquor store adjacent to the gas station. The older man hobbled by at about the same time as last Friday night, staring into his phone of course. Glew pulled up beside him. So I drove across the street.

Glew parked beside the older man and opened the passenger side door. The older man spoke to him. Then the big man in the Ford F-150 pulled in next to the same pump he’d parked beside the previous week. He marched into the station, counting the money in his hand. The older man shook his head “No” at Glew. I parked the little car I’d picked up the day before and jogged behind the older man. I slid a fifty into his hand and said, “Just go, man.”

The older man stared at the money. Mr. F-150 walked out of the gas station. I nudged the older man into Glew’s car. Glew took off. So I took a seat up by the wall with my phone in my hands. I also wore a puffy tan jacket, jeans and boots. I kept my head down, waiting.

Mr. F-150 turned the corner. He stepped closer to me but he stopped. I watched his shadow out of my peripheral vision while exhaling puffy clouds into the night air. Come on, big boy. Come on. Reach in my pocket. It’s me-the kindly old man with his head in his phone. Come on.

Mr. F-150 clucked his tongue, turned and walked back to his truck. I swallowed. A wolf can smell a wolf, I reckon.

I crept over to the F-150. With the big man pumping his gas on the other side, I got down on my knee by the back driver’s side tire and removed the valve cap. Then I placed the tip of my flat-head screwdriver onto the metal pin inside the valve stem and pushed forward.

Wishhhhhh.

Mr. F-150 said, “Hey. Hey now. Hey.”

He bolted around the back bumper and grabbed hold of my collar. I reached into my pocket. He jerked me around until I faced him. I’d bet a big dollar that this old boy had bailed his share of hay. He wore a grimace at me but there in his eyes, he held a light of excitement. Oh yeah, big boy. This is what you live for. You and I. All the hum-drum daily life is just the down time until we meet like this. And now, meet this. I squeezed the trigger.

Fziiit.

The pepper spray flooded his face. He grabbed the can right after. Oh yeah. He had put lots of fellows on their knees with that death grip. That didn’t last but a second though. He doubled over, tumbling to his own knees. He rubbed the backs of his hands against his eyes and cheeks, making a low growl. I sprayed him again in the mouth. He spat and snorted and tried to blow out all of the chemicals. A sloppy soup of mucus splattered on the parking lot next to a mashed cigarette butt.

While he bent over, I slipped his wallet out of his jeans and reached inside- lots of hundreds. I slid the cash into my pocket and dropped the wallet on the ground. Mr. F-150 changed his tone to a weaker one, rubbing his eyes. “Aw, please now. Come on now. I need that money.”

I said, “That old man needed his money.”

“Come on, man. I got kids.”

I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll catch you on payday, pops.”

I drove a few miles on down to the rat hole motel. Glew had followed the old man for the past week at night and learned he lived there, paying the weekly rate. Glew then used his powers of research and found out the man had lost his wife earlier in the year and took to drinking and lost his house and his car. He still managed to hold onto his job somehow. I parked the little car I’d bought for five hundred bucks, hoping it didn’t die on me. Then I tapped on the old man’s room.

Glew answered the door. “Hey, stud.”

A soap opera played on the TV. A couple of suitcases and piles of clothes sat on the floor next to the bed. Glew resumed his seat beside the old man. He held a box of Goobers toward me. I shook my head and took out the wad of cash along with the keys to the car outside. I snapped my fingers at the old man, getting his head out of the TV. He said, “Oh, hey.”

I handed him the money and keys. “This should get you by. The car outside ain’t much but it beats walking.”

The old man stared at his new possessions. “Oh. Oh, well, thank you, son.”

Glew handed him a prepaid cell phone. “You have any more trouble…just call the number in the phone. We’ll help you out.”

The old man’s eyes welled up. He looked up at me as if I was a great monument. “This don’t seem real.”

I switched off the TV. Glew said, “Oh, come on, Fairfax. It’s just getting good.”

I looked at the old man. “You won’t ever know what’s real until you get your head out of that box…”

I pulled back the window curtain. “…and start looking at what’s around you.”

The old man watched us leave with his mouth hung open. Just before Glew drove us away, the old man took a seat beside the window and waved “good-bye” at us.

Something You Can Do

Glew parked on the street in front of Mrs. Jordan’s house after the sun set low enough so that a chill crept into my throat. Glew shivered. I shook my head. He said, “Okay, stud. Just give me a minute.”

“I’m coming in.”

He swallowed. “Well, she talks a lot. I mean…I mean…well…”

I climbed out of his car and stretched my back. He shut his door and then waved me forward as if he served as the doorman for a ritzy hotel. I walked up to him and urged him forward. He stumbled and then brought his hand up real quick and steadied the panama hat on his head. The white hat and the white suit and the white shoes. Old Glew could blind a bat.

Mrs. Jordan answered her door as if we were her dogs coming inside after relieving ourselves. Glew looked back at me and spread his hands. She walked to the kitchen island while he followed her. Once inside, Glew told her, “Don’t mind him.” Then he turned to me and said, “Now stay off the nice lady’s furniture.”

Mrs. Jordan looked my way, her green slits for eyes studying me. Her lip arched into a smile for a split-second but then vanished. “He can sit wherever he likes.”

I stepped into the living room and leaned back on the wall. Glew handed her an envelope. “There’s everything. Like I said, I’m sorry your suspicions were correct.”

She patted his hand. “No. No. I already knew.”

According to Glew, Mr. Jordan liked to spend his lunch hour at a motel with a woman who looked a lot like Mrs. Jordan. Glew gave the guy the benefit of the doubt at first, but he took it all in with his camera. There could be no question- same looks and probably similar personality to the misses, but just new and fresh without all the stuff that comes with marriage. Without the trap like folks like to call it. Maybe Mr. Jordan felt boxed in, like a caged raccoon.

Mrs. Jordan cut a check and handed it to Glew. Then she started sobbing. Glew tipped his hat back and embraced her. She cried harder. After a hug that I didn’t think would end without her finding herself having an affair of her own, Glew said, “I know. This is such a blow.”

She waved a hand. “Oh, it’s been over for years. I…I was…”

Glew said, “Yes?”

She said, “I was robbed.”

I leaned up from the wall.

Glew said, “Oh goodness. Well, that’s just awful. It’s so frustrating to lose your hard-earned money.”

She shook her head. “It isn’t the money. I had a picture in my purse of my brother. He…he hasn’t been with us for…a while and…he didn’t really like having his picture taken and…I don’t have much else to remember him by. And it’s just gone.”

Glew cut an eye toward me. I crossed my arms. “You have any idea who this thief might be?”

She shook her head. “I didn’t…things happen so fast…”

Glew touched her shoulder. “Of course, Mrs. Jordan.”

She dabbed at her eyes. Then she grew quiet. Glew looked at me. She said, “First my marriage goes. Now my memories will go. It’s easy to see why my aunt gave up. Everyone just leaves. She did, too, but hell…there’s just nothing you can do.”

Glew patted her shoulder. “We’re real sorry.”

She closed her eyes. “I should have never shopped at that grocery store. I knew things happened down there. So stupid.”

I said, “So about the thief. You’re sure there was nothing you recall?”

Glew looked at me with bulging eyes. She stared at me like she hadn’t seen me before. I gave her my saddest grin. She looked above me. “You know, he had a tattoo of rain right here.” She pointed to her forearm. “Yes. It was like streaks of rain.”

Two weeks dripped by with Glew and myself plopped in the seat of his car he’d parked in that same grocery store parking lot. We saw lots of folks go in and out. I didn’t get a vibe from most, except the occasional slob with a hint of scum about him. None of those fellows sported tattoos on their forearms though. Glew watched in between doing busy work for his private eye cases. A light rain pattered the windshield while the spring sun gave us enough warmth to roll our windows down. I said, “It’s easy to see. So many of these people walk in with their heads in their phones and stuck up each others’ rear ends. Going about their day, thinking Johnny Law will step in if there’s any trouble.”

Psst.

“Damn you, Glew. What are you doing?”

Glew held a dark blue bottle with some kind of insignia on it while wearing a smile on his long face. “Got you.”

I wiped my arm off. “Got no use for that crap you girly men spray on yourselves. A woman can’t be attracted to your pheromones when you smell like a flower…pansy.”

Glew sprayed his neck with the stuff. “Oh, let me tell you. This little blue bottle has gotten me plenty of ladies. I can name off five in the past month. How many can you name off, stud?”

I shook my head.

“It’s the way of the world. We can’t turn the clocks back. You just have to go with it. Although maybe-”

I shushed him and pointed to a man smoking outside the front door of the grocery store.

Glew said, “What?”

“The forearm. Watch.”

After a long drag, the man lowered his cigarette, revealing a tattoo on his right forearm.

Glew said, “Rain?”

“I’ll see.”

Once the man entered the store, I followed him around the different aisles. I passed him twice before he stopped at the beer aisle. I passed behind him and took a look at the tattoo. When I reached the front door, I gave a “thumbs up” sign to Glew. He started the car. After walking down the sidewalk and peering in the windows of a few more shops, I turned. The man exited the store, empty-handed. I followed him through the parking lot but he kept on walking until he reached the sidewalk. Glew idled his way to the parking lot exit.

I stayed back about twenty feet, breathing as hard as I could muster. The rainy forearm man stopped at the red light. So I pulled my phone from my pocket, turned it off and then placed it to my ear, mumbling. When the light turned green, Rainy stepped off the curve. Glew drove right in front of him, cutting him off. Rainy stopped, stumbling. Before I could turn away, he peered back at me. Then he took off across the street.

“Damn you, Glew.”

I walked to the light and then turned right. This guy could live in the apartments across the block. He looked the type. So I got about halfway and then sprinted to the next light where I turned left. From there, I bolted my way across with the alley up ahead growing closer. One old woman came out of a store. I flew by her. She gasped behind me. Sure enough, Rainy made a quick departure from the alley.

Thud!

I rammed the poor fool with my chest. He crashed to the cement, letting out a low moan. Glew pulled up in the car beside us and popped the trunk. I loaded the man into the trunk with one motion. Then I hopped in and we took off.

Ten minutes and several beats on the trunk later, Glew pulled us into an alley across town. We popped the trunk open. The man breathed hard with sweat pumping out of him from his forehead, chest, underarms and everywhere. He said, “You got nothing on me.”

Glew shined a flashlight beam into his face. I said, “You took a lady’s purse a few weeks ago. We need to know what you did with it.”

Rainy looked at me and then at Glew and back at me.

I said, “Tell us where it is and all this ends.”

Rainy wiped his forehead. “Ah, you two ain’t cops. You’re like somebody’s husband or boyfriend or something. And you wear crappy cologne.”

Glew said, “Hey, I’ll have you know that my choice in colognes has-”

I cut in with, “Just tell us where the purse is.”

Rainy shook his head. “I didn’t take no purse and you got nothing. Let me out of here or I’ll sue.”

Glew grabbed at Rainy’s foot, ushering me to slam the trunk lid on it. Rainy scrambled out of his grasp. I stopped Glew. I said, “Well, I guess he’s right. Ain’t nothing that says he’s got to tell us anything.”

Rainy smiled, revealing a missing tooth up front. “That’s right. Let me out of here or else.”

When he rose up, I placed my hand on his shoulder. “You know, we really don’t need any money or any purse. There was a picture in the purse of a brother that she’s never going to see again. It’s sentimental.”

Rainy paused. Then he shook his head. “Like I said-”

I kept my hand on his shoulder and leaned toward him. “You got a mama. Don’t you? A girlfriend? An aunt? A grandmama? Picture them losing a picture of you and it being the only thing left they have to remember you by. Because, you know, folks do disappear sometimes.”

Rainy stared into my eyes. I held it while he stuck his tongue through the gap in his teeth. He swallowed. “Somebody told me something about tossing a purse in the river out south. Just something I heard.”

“Thanks.”

Glew slammed the trunk lid and we climbed back inside while Rainy beat the trunk and yelled. Glew drove five miles below the limit the whole way. By the time we reached the river, the sun had settled on down with darkness taking over. Not one car passed us after we pulled onto the shoulder by the guardrail. We stepped back around and popped the trunk. Rainy said, “Let me out now!!”

I said, “You want to help us with the purse finding? Four eyes are better than two.”

Rainy said, “You stick it up your-”

I shut the trunk in his face. A series of muffled screams followed that indicated that he changed his mind. I chuckled and looked at Glew. “Drive him around for ten minutes and then we’ll let him help.”

Glew got in and drove away in no hurry while I climbed over the guardrail onto the riverbank, peering down with my flashlight beam on the murky water. A paper cup floated there along with a candy bar wrapper above the sticks below. Headlights flooded my peripheral vision. So I hunkered down until the car passed. I searched the water on over until I reached the start of the bridge at which point Glew pulled back up and popped the trunk open.

I checked both ways and then hopped over the guardrail. Rainy climbed out, cursing and swearing he’d sue us. I grabbed him up by his shirt collar and tossed him over into the murky waters. He dropped with a scream. Glew said, “Goodness, Fairfax.”

“Get on. I’ll holler when I need you.”

After placing my cell phone in a plastic bag and returning it to my pocket, I sprang over into the murky waters myself.

Plosh!

When I floated back to the surface, I shook the water from my mop of hair. A few drops caught Rainy in the eyes. He splashed water back at me. “There! How do you like it?”

I turned on my flashlight and aimed the beam ahead. I coughed. “Take this. It will go quicker if we’re both looking.”

I swam over to him and held the flashlight toward him. He shook his head. “I ain’t doing nothing but swimming back up to the bank and getting out of here and just wait until I spread word about you all. You can bet somebody will be by to pay you a visit.”

I tossed the flashlight, catching him in the eye.

He said, “Ow!! Damn it!”

I said, “Just look.”

From there, I swam under the bridge, pointing the beam in all directions. I peered back over my shoulder. The other light pointed in several directions as well. I smiled and continued on.

I swam on up on the other side until the water became shallow enough to where I could stand. My flashlight beam lit up lots of garbage and one black purse that Rainy said did not look like the purse “a friend” told him about. I smiled and nodded. I saw no pictures inside either. Rainy swam to my side. I caught him approaching from the side and shined my beam in his face. He said, “Ah. Oh. Hey, there.”

I kept the light shining in his face. “Yeah?”

He huffed. “Maybe it washed away.”

“No, no. Keep on looking. We’ll find it.”

He mumbled something. I pointed the beam back in his face. “What’s that?”

He put his head down and searched back over this side with his beam darting back and forth. I flashed mine on ahead and then I turned back. I stopped.

To my right, a snapping turtle watched me from an island. What a beast. I watched him. When he moved over an inch, I caught sight of something.

Rainy swam back over to me, aiming his beam in the same direction. “Ew. Them thangs can all die. Oh wait. Hell, that’s it!”

The turtle moved again, revealing a large white purse. I said, “You’re sure that’s it?”

Rainy nodded. “I am positive. I mean, that’s exactly how ‘they’ described it.”

“Hhmm. You want to go in and get it?”

Rainy shook his head, slinging water. “No, you can’t make me get in there with that thang. No!”

I shrugged. “Okay.”

I swam on by a few trees until I reached the island. From there, I climbed up onto a stump nearby. Then I watched the snapping turtle who opened his mouth at me. I took a breath and jumped onto the island behind the turtle. Before he could take off, I snatched him up from behind and tossed him at Rainy who screamed before he dove under. Then I picked up the purse. Sure enough, an instant film picture revealed itself of a dark-haired man who looked to be around forty who had slits of green for eyes.

Rainy splashed around in the water, screaming. I said, “Sshhh.” Then I dialed up Glew who answered on the first ring. “Yeah, I got it. Come on.”

Rainy sprang up from the water and swam like a killer whale back to the bridge where he took several deep breaths. I waited until Glew’s headlights lessened the darkness and tossed the purse onto the bridge. Then I dove back in the water and climbed up the hill to the bridge. Rainy screamed, “That thang about tore my titty off!”

I jumped over the guardrail next to Glew’s car. Glew already had a seat cover over the passenger seat with lots of towels there, too. I spat on the ground and tossed the purse inside.

Rainy flipped over the guardrail. “All right, now. You just better-”

I hopped into the car. Glew took off down the road. Rainy’s torn shirt flapped in the red beam from Glew’s brake lights. We laughed at that until we lost sight of the man with the rain tattoo.

We paid Mrs. Jordan a visit the next day. She nearly fell down when we returned her picture to her. She told us her brother served in Iraq and always gave a lot of of his paycheck to Wounded Warriors. I couldn’t help but picture sitting on the bank of a little pond with him, enjoying a brew and waiting for a big bass to grab onto our hooks- the kind of afternoon where you don’t have to say anything but you smile more than you ever did. Once she got done crying, she gave us both hugs. I gave her a can of mace and said, “You shop at that grocery store anytime you want and never forget. There’s always something you can do.”

Just before we got out the door, she called to us. When we turned, she took our picture with an instant film camera. She winked and said, “Now I’ll always carry two pictures with me.”