From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Bunyip

Here is something which originated from Australia. The original tale makes a swell bedtime story for kids, and has been used here to lull my brood to sleep on many a night. The opening line grabs the reader's attention, as a good story must. I consider it to be one of the best.

"Late one night, for no particular reason, something stirred in the mud at the bottom of Berkely's Creek."

I get the shivers reading that every time.

Then at one point, I thought it would be a good idea to try to transpose the story into a song, so I did. The boys acted like they hated the thing.

"Dad! Don't sing that one!"

It went on to became a fair-enough song to me, but I discovered that it took too long to sing, running about six minutes or more. A good song needs to last about half of that to hold my interest. The boys, they like them short as well, or filled with more violence. I may have warped the three of them, singing such nonsense as "The Long Black Veil" or things like "Miller's Cave" to induce sleep (for the uninitiated or unaware, those are two terribly melodramatic country and western tunes, and the former, when it came out, was tagged as the saddest song ever sung, and by the man who sang it. The second one follows close behind).

This present tale involves a mythical Bunyip. A bunyip might be described as a Bigfoot type of creature.

And a one and a two...

The Bunyip

Late, late one night
For reasons unclear
Something stirred in the mud
And a creature did appear.
Now the night birds hid their heads
And the fish swam away in fright
While the thing sat upon the riverbank
Considering its plight

What am I? What am I, it cried.
What am I?

A platypus came swimming by
And answered its request.
“Sir, you are a Bunyip.
That would be my educated guess.”
“What do I look like?
Am I handsome? Tell me please.”
But the platypus had disappeared
Beneath the water, and with ease.

Then a wallaby stopped to take a drink
So The Bunyip asked again.
“What do Bunyips look like?
Please tell me, my friend.”
“Horrible” Said the wallaby
As she sipped from the creek.
“They are covered up with feathers
And they have two webbed feet.”

“Do I have handsome feathers?”
Asked the Bunyip hopefully.
“No! They’re horrible feathers!”
It replied grumpily.
“Handsome-looking webbed feet?”
The Bunyip, he implored.
But the wallaby had hopped away
So the question was ignored.

What am I? What am I, it cried.
What am I?

So he sighed as he walked away
In search of a body to ask
When an emu in the under bush
suddenly shot past.
“Wait up!” Yelled the Bunyip,
As he ran along its side.
“Tell me what Bunyips look like.”
The Bunyip, it cried.

Now the emu did consider.
“They have fur.” He finally said.
“And tails.” He added simply.
But the Bunyip scratched his head.
“How many tails?” He asked.
“Please tell me, O kind sir.”
“Just one to a Bunyip –
Oh yes, and that horrid fur.”

The emu streaked off once again
Low close next to the ground.
The Bunyip still had questions
But there was no one else around.
So he wandered sadly on his way
Trying to understand
When further down the creek bank
He came upon a single man.

Who was writing in a notebook
With a pen, and didn’t see.
The Bunyip stood by quietly
When the man said suddenly.

“Shh! I’m busy.”

So the Bunyip waited for a time.

Then slowly
And clearly
He spoke to the man.

“Can you please tell me what Bunyips look like?”

The man, he gazed right through him.
“Bunyips do not exist.”
“You sure?” Cried the Bunyip.
Now, this was a frightful twist.
The Bunyip held his head down low.
He sighed a deep, long sigh.
“What a pity.” The Bunyip moaned
As a tear ran from his eye.

He then packed up his Bunyip bag
And began to walk along.
And as the sun began to set
He came to a billabong.
This will do, he thought to self.
No one will see me here.
I can be handsome if I like.
No body will have to care.

So he unpacked his little bag –
A mirror and his comb
Put his billy on to boil
While he sat there all alone.

But late, late, late that night
For reasons that aren’t known
Another thing stirred in the mud
at the bottom of the billabong.
The Bunyip stared in astonishment
As the object climbed in sight.
“What am I,” it asked aloud
And he shouted with delight

“You’re a Bunyip!” “I am?”
“Oh, yes!” he said with glee.
“What do I look like?”
She shyly asked.
“Why, you look

And he lent her his mirror to prove it.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

On Raising the Girls

Someone was overheard complaining about a twisted ribbon and several keys that kept jamming on their old-fashioned typewriter. That reminded me of one of my dad's service calls he had to make to a lawyer’s office, where a brand-new electric was reported to have gone haywire -- a secretary’s new-fangled machine skipped incessantly, the buxom lady moaned.

“Try typing a few lines,” He suggested. She scooted her chair close and he watched as her delicate fingers hovered for a moment above the keyboard. Then suddenly, as she leaned forward to begin her typing, the carriage began to automatically travel to the left, seemingly on its own power.

Dad then asked her go fetch a fresh ream of paper, and while she busied herself with that distraction, he readjusted the height of the overly-endowed woman’s chair, raising it by a tactful two inches.

Naturally, he billed the firm for both his time and expertise.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

First Assault

Throughout the history of God’s green Earth, a select few have had the title of Hero thrust upon them, if only for a brief moment of time. But we are all heroes, the narrator says. We may be quick to disagree with this idea, but somewhere, someone thinks so of us. Harvey has never once considered himself as such, but only as one who desperately wanted to be.

After placing the call to the police, Harvey got back into his car and sat still for a long period of time. Typically, he might have enjoyed the hushed silence that now lay before him, with its absence of day sounds and its normal bustle of confusing humanity, but the nightmarish ordeal he had just endured would not allow that comfort to come.

He lifted the curled shape of Fearless and laid him gently on his lap, and slowly began stroking his rounded back. The kitten did not stir. Harvey’s heart still raced.

Scattered across the empty parking lot, a number of tall poles, each set upon their sturdy cement bases, cast eerie circles of diffused light below. Across the highway, the rows of white buildings watched him unsmilingly. The complete absence of traffic on Route One only helped to enhance Harvey’s state of mental turmoil.

What would possess a man to risk his own freedom by assaulting another? What drove such a man?

What did I do to cause this thing? Did I overstepped some bounds? All I ever wanted was to get along. And things were going so well. Had I been unreasonable somehow?

Bart would have throttled the man, right from the start.

“I want my refrigerator, and I want the damn thing now!”

Bart is tall. Bart is brave. Tall men never seem to be afraid. If only I was taller.

Fearless changed his position, and slept.

What should I do next?

And what will I do now?

He soon drove south for a half-hour, trying to escape the ghosts in his mind, before finally turning and going west for another mile. Then there, parked beneath the gloom of an oak, one which grew close to a darkened row of town homes, he closed his eyes and tried to rest. The shadows of the long night began to slowly fall away as daybreak came, taking the fears with them. But before the kitchen light on the other side of the street came on, and without bothering to disturb the peace of his good friend Les, or of his wife and their family, Harvey started his Vega and drove back to Alexandria.

And as the sun rose on the way, so did Harvey’s rage.

He did stop by and file a report with the police before going in to work.

Self-assured Bart McKay guarded his turf with a passion. He absolutely loathed thieves, and nothing gave the man greater pleasure than to thwart one, or for total satisfaction, to bring the perpetrator to justice, if and when necessary. Bart never mentioned his outside life at all; store security was what he seemed to live for.

But beyond that, he was an excellent listener when it came to his crew.

He sat calmly back as Harvey told his story, and after Harvey arrived at the end of it, Bart asked,

“So when do you go to court?”

Harvey fished out a copy of the report and read the assigned date.

“Six weeks from now. Okay. Where you plan on staying in the meantime?”

Harvey could only shrug.

“I don’t know, Bart. I’ll figure something out.”

Fearless meowed from Harvey’s lap, and Bart said with a smile.

“Well, do something with that damn cat first. And if you need any help with anything, you let me know.”

Harvey looked at the floor and said thanks.

“I mean it. I don’t want to lose a good man.”

After making a place in the floorboard where little Fearless could get to his food and water, Harvey lowered the windows enough to give good circulation, and then he locked the doors and returned inside, and he went straight to the windows overlooking Cosmetics.

Around ten o’clock he called Bart.

“I think I got something.”

“You think? What is it?”

He had seen three women who had gathered around a revolving display stand, turning it and looking at tiny gold and silver necklaces. One of the women took a gold one of the rack. She turned to one of her friends, who then leaned over to see it better, and that one nodded her head.

The first woman then did the most suspicious thing. She looked around.

The other two kept spinning the case slowly while the first one, to what seemed to Harvey’s eyes, began twirling the necklace while she looked to either side. The coast was clear. He read that to be what she was thinking, for in a flash, she stopped twirling, caught and clasped the chain in her palm. Then just as quickly, the hand went to the opened black purse hanging from her shoulder.

“I know she’s got it, Bart. I just know it!”

“Meet me in the foyer.”

And Bart hung up.

They had to wait quite a while, too. The three women took their time before they left, strolling around and laughing, and during that period of time, Bart leaned over and told Harvey in a low voice,

“Let me handle this one.”

The three ladies made the approach to the inner doors.

The first one, the one with the black purse, pushed open a door and held it for the other two. Bart stood passively leaning against a plate glass window at one side of the foyer, and he stared as if he were bored, but he looked right at the woman in question.

She let her door go and turned around, and then she saw his gaze fixed on her face. She hesitated for a second, but only for a second. She then stared angrily right back, and she kept staring at him as she marched out past one of the automatic outer doors. And then, as the door began to close behind her, she threw back her head and cackled loudly.

Bart hadn’t budged an inch, nor had Harvey, but when the door eased shut, he went and stood next to the sidelight window, and he kept watching the trio intently, who all kept looking back over their shoulders and slapping each other’s hands as they headed for their car.

Bart turned finally, as the car slowed to turn south on Route One and disappear into traffic. Harvey looked dumbfounded, but he didn’t say a word.

“I know they had it too, Harvey. But it’s only a two-dollar item, and trust me -- they will be back.”

“What do you mean, it’s just a two-dollar item? They stole it!”

Bart got that look that said you don’t get it.

“We can’t be absolutely certain they had it. Plus, we have two law-suits going against Zayre right now; both parties are going for twenty grand apiece, and both for false arrest.

People do that. They pretend to steal, and then turn around and sue when they get stopped. It’s a good way to get a free meal-ticket. And most likely, those cases will both win. I won’t risk it for that, not over some cheap costume jewelry.”

And here Bart got a smug look of confidence on his face.

“And the thing is -- thieves always come back. We’ll get their sorry asses eventually.”

It was a standing rule at Zayer to prosecute anyone who committed a felony. Items totaling less than one hundred dollars was considered to be a misdemeanor, and if the person caught had offered no resistance, such as fighting or trying to escape, they were most often sent away with a warning, along with the one-year ban.

In cases where the dollar amount exceeded one hundred, the police would automatically be called, and the person led away in cuffs to a waiting squad car.

Harvey decided that what Bart had said made sense, but still…

Maggie came in at two, and she could not believe her ears what Harvey told her.

“Well, where are you going to stay at, hon?”

Just before Harvey clocked out that day, she came over and told him.

“Look. I just called Robby. He said no problem -- you can crash in our living room for awhile. And you can even bring Fearless.”

Bart asked Harvey point-blank the next morning,

“You guys got a three-way going there or something?”

Harvey just laughed.

“Are you kidding me? Maggie’s okay, Bart, but she’s not my type.”

“Okay, look. Amos is taking a job down at Midway in a couple of days. He just got hired on as a constable there, so if you want, I can move you to evenings. That way, you two can ride in together, or whatever it is you too like to do.”

Harvey ignored his joking remark, but decided to go ahead and make the switch.

“Start in three days, then. You need overtime, let me know.”

Harvey told Maggie the news later, and she seemed pleased.

Around three, and while he pushed a cart through Fabrics, he heard a pleasant and most-familiar female voice on the sound system. She spoke slow and very business-like.

“Taylor to phone three. Taylor to phone three, please.”

He arrived quickly at the window upstairs to find Maggie with her face pressed to the one that over-looked Record and Tapes, and she had an arm out, beckoning him over hurriedly.

“Take a look at this fool down here.”

He squeezed in next to her while she leaned back to give him a better view. Below, a young man in his early twenties had a pocket knife out. In one hand he held a blister pack containing an eight-track tape, and while two teen-aged boys stood by and looked on, he showed them how to slice the excess edges off with the blade.

After doing the first one, he handed the trimmed-down object to one of the boys. The kid shifted the tape down inside of his waistband, Maggie whispered.

He began working on the second one, so the two pairs watched and waited.

The younger of the two boys looked around nervously.

The second one gazed on hungrily as the man turned the pack in his hand, trying to start his second cut through the clear, thick plastic. Suddenly his knife slipped and he dropped the tape to the floor. It landed flat on its side, and the noise it made caused the first boy to jump.

The second one’s eyes grew large as the man stuck his thumb up to his lips and winced, and then the man doubled over, squeezing his cut thumb. The two boys began backing out of the section, and before they turned and ran, the pilfered tape came out and was placed back on the counter.

Harvey and Maggie had to sit back to keep from laughing hard as the man stood below them, alone, looking around and swaying back and forth in pain.

“Oh, man, that serves him just right! This is rich! Just wait till Bart hears about it.”

Bart tried to stop a sixteen-year-old boy who had concealed several eight-tracks under his shirt, but the boy panicked and ran. Bart chased the kid all the way out to Route One where he collared him and hauled him and his loot back inside the store. While he sat and filled out the incident report, the teen sat in one of the stiff-back chairs, angrily banging his head on the wall behind him. Bart kept looking up and shaking his head as he wrote. Only when he slid the form over to get the boy’s required signature did the rhythmic pounding cease, and as he leaned forward to take the pen from Bart, he moaned,

“My coach is going to kill me.”

Bart raised an eyebrow and asked why.

“Because I’m on the Track Team at my high school, that’s why.”

The young man appeared even more remorseful when he added,

“And some old man was able to catch me.”

He scribbled his name at the bottom of the paper, leaned back and resumed bumping his head on the cinder blocks while Bart dialed the number for the police. As the phone rang, Bart laid a hand across the mouthpiece and told the boy as he sneered,

“You tell your coach that it was a forty-two-year old man who caught you, and that he was wearing cowboy boots at the time.”

The last day Amos worked, he and Bart pursued and caught three teens who ran and hid in an underground storm drain, far from the store. All but the one who got away returned to the store after an hour-long chase, all muddied and wet to the knees, and only two wore big smiles.

People steal for many reasons.

A ten-year-old crammed her tiny, pink purse with dozens of tubes of differing shades of lipsticks.

“I just wanted them.”

Two girls, both teenagers, carefully buttoned three blouses apiece over the shirts they had worn in, and then tried to walk out the door.

“They were all so pretty.”

Another teen, a boy, took a pair of sunglasses.

“My friend dared me to.”

(Bart reminded him not to forget to remove the tags, next time)

Each and every shoplifter caught had to give an answer to that final question listed on the incident report, which was, “Why did you steal this/these item (s)?”

The more-popular answer always sounded the same.

“I don’t know why.”

Only once did Harvey ever let a man go without filing a report. He had nabbed this person as he left the store, after concealing a single bar of soap, which he had wrapped with a cheap, white wash cloth. This man had given up easily as soon as Harvey had stopped him.

He had then wordlessly allowed Harvey to lead him back into the office, and he had sat there quietly for the duration, humbly giving up any information that Harvey had requested.

He never once complained. He did not try to justify his actions. He offered no excuse up front. He sat up straight during the entire interview, but with shoulders drawn and head bowed in shame.

When Harvey read the last query aloud, the man paused for a time before admitting the honest truth, and then he said almost inaudibly,

“I needed them.”

Others shoplift for the sheer thrill. And to some, the excitement becomes their uncontrollable addiction.

Some use the system to make instant cash.

A woman picked up a new portable television set from Appliances and took it straight to the service desk. She then began to complain when she could not get her refund.

“But it don’t go with my décor.”

The service desk personnel are kept busy dealing with a wide range of customers, and they generally do their jobs well. Most problems get resolved and most people are made happy.

“But ma’am, we have to have your receipt. When did you purchase this item?”

The woman’s jaw jutted out.

“I lost it.”

“Well ma’am…”

“I want to speak to the manager!”

The girl picked up her phone and dialed Mr. Conroy.

Bart stood and leaned on the counter with his chin resting on one hand. He had a knack for looking bored. He turned to the woman to offer some idle chat.

“Hey, that’s a nice little TV there. My wife got my kids one just like it.”

The woman gave Bart an annoyed look, and then turned the other way while she tapped her fingers and waited.

As soon the girl behind the counter was free, Bart asked her for an application form. She smiled and handed him one. He took out a pen and started filling it out. Mr. Conroy then approached the counter.

“Yes. How may I help you, madam?”

In less than two minutes, the girl behind the counter counted out just over a hundred dollars to the satisfied woman. In less than two seconds after signing for the cash, Bart felt tickled to arrest her.

He told us later,

“I’d been watching her for over an hour.”

Around nine-thirty at night, the crowds start to thin. Harvey sat in one of the windows, trying to keep from nodding off, when he heard the announcement blare twice.

“Taylor to the service desk!”

He cleared the stairs in two leaps.

The girl behind the counter pointed to the doors. Her eyes were huge and worried.

“A customer came back in and said someone outside was laying out there hurt.”

Harvey trotted to the foyer and out into the cool night air. The parking lot held maybe a dozen or so cars. At one near-by parking spot, a lone cyclist was busy securing a large, white Zayre bag to the back of the motorcycle. Harvey glanced left and then right. Thirty feet down the sidewalk a stilled human form lay on its side. Harvey ran the length to find Maggie curled in a fetal position, and she moaned lightly.


She moaned again as she hugged her torso and rocked, but her movements were barely noticeable.

Oh my God! She’s been stabbed!

Harvey kneeled down and shouted her name one more time.

Her eyes fluttered, but she didn’t respond right away.

“Maggie! Maggie! What happened?”

She took a short breath, and then another, and then in snatches of words she gasped,

“That son of a bitch…

Punched me…

In the stomach.”

Harvey looked around. The man on the bike had one foot on the ground and the other on his kickstand, but he was fitting his helmet on.

Who did, Maggie? Who?”

She could hardly move, but she pointed a finger at her head.

“A black guy. He was wearing a thing...on his head.”

Harvey saw the man wearing the helmet rise to start the engine.

“What did he take? What did he steal?”

She held up three fingers with her eyes squinted shut.


Harvey seem to leap the forty feet in three giant bounds in order to reach the side of the man on the bike. And then, without tact or guile, he forcefully demanded to see inside the man’s bag strapped on the back. The fellow leaned away from Harvey and froze, and then he instantly complied.

It was when Harvey was pawing through several pairs of the man’s brand-new socks, a new shirt and a few other items that he happened to notice the light color of the man’s hands.

The poor fellow never even got an apology. Harvey took off and dashed to the end of the sidewalk, passing Maggie where she lay trying to get her breath. He ran around the side of the building. To his left stood a tall fence; too tall to climb. In back, a high brick wall enclosed the store’s dark side, and he saw no one. When he returned empty-handed, Maggie was sitting up, hugging her knees.

“No, I’m alright, really. Just give me another minute.”

After she recovered, Harvey wanted to know the whole story.

“Oh, the guy had balls, I’ll tell you that.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was huge. And he didn’t even try to hide -- he carried the tapes in his hands and walked right out the door. I would have called for backup, but he was walking fast, so I ran out after him.”

Harvey helped her stand to her feet.

“Then, when I got outside, I saw him almost down at the corner, so I hollered at him to stop plus I held up my badge.

He just turned around and looked, and then he started coming back, and hell, he was smiling at me too.

But then, when he went to hand me the tapes like a good boy, he keeps that big smile plastered on his face, and the next thing I know, he slugs me -- right in my damn stomach!”

Bart let her know the next day he was certainly relieved that she was okay, but then he laid into all of his people about the rules again.

“Always go out in pairs when you make a stop, damn it!”

Haiku to Rock

Some bird in my tree
Warbling Smoke on the Water
Just the first three notes

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Night Riders

Harvey Collins’ journey hits an unfortunate snag along the way. This seventh chapter contains language some may find offensive.

When Harvey opened his eyes the next morning, he saw little Fearless laying an inch from his face, curled up and asleep. He rose carefully and padded barefooted into the kitchen, leaving the kitten to rest on his pillow.

With the carton of milk in hand, he set his one bowl on the floor next to the sink, and then he opened the waxed container to pour. Nothing came out.

Perplexed, Harvey peered down inside the cold carton. The milk he saw looked frozen solid.

He heard a slight thump coming from the other room, and as Harvey twisted a squeaky faucet handle for the hot water, the little Manx ran to his feet and mewed.

“Good morning down there, you.”

He pressed a rubber plug into the drain, and then for a few minutes he sat on the floor cross-legged, playing with Fearless while the sink filled to thaw the milk.

“I’m going in to get me a shower and a shave now, buddy. Your food should be ready by then.”

Then after dressing and attending to Fearless, Harvey locked his front door and jogged down the staircase, and before driving to work, he made a brief stop by the manager’s office.

The Torrance Apartments boasted a huge, high billboard set out close to the heavily-traveled highway. On it read claims of the lowest rentals available anywhere in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

The complex was made up of several rows of two-story, flat-roofed buildings. The aged place, along with its low fees and suitable location, suited Harvey just fine. But he wondered if management had ever been made aware of his minor problem.

A small sign hung from a nail on the office door, stating that the place was open for business.

Harvey turned the doorknob and tried pushing inward. The door stuck fast at the bottom, so he pushed harder on the knob. A set of off-white blinds then clattered sharply against the upper glass as the door swung inward, and a cool rush of air hit his face.

An empty desk, covered with several unorganized stacks of papers, an over-flowing in-box and a black telephone resting on top of a thick directory, greeted his eyes. In one window above the desk, a small air conditioner hummed. Above it hung a half-raised blind, slightly opened and allowing in little sunlight.

After pushing the door shut behind him, he turned and saw the backside of Edgar Stiles, the man who had rented him his room the day before. Stiles was in the act of bending down, going through an opened drawer of a file cabinet in one corner of the room, but he turned his head quickly and looked up at Harvey.

“Hey, good morning. I’m the guy who rented two-twelve from you yesterday.”

Stiles didn’t bother to stand, but he looked Harvey up and down before he spoke.

“I know who you are.”

“Well, I just wanted to stop by before work to let you know about my fridge.”

The man turned then, and straightened himself up before swaggering over to his desk.

There was something about his shape, Harvey noticed; also something in that gait that put Harvey in mind of a burly seafarer. Paunchy, and sporting a blond, longish, flat-top haircut, Stiles scowled as he took a manila folder off his desk and opened it up.

Harvey waited until after Stiles read something inside, and then he watched as the man dropped it back onto another stack. Stiles then asked Harvey, as he took a seat behind the desk,

“What’s the matter with it?”

Harvey began to describe the odd switch in the freezer, along with his morning’s troubles, and how he had tried to cope with it all.

Stiles shuffled two of the piles of papers while he listened, stacking each one more neatly before moving both to new locations.

“That’s an easy fix. You leave that switch on during the day. Then you cut the thing off at night.”

Harvey felt doubtful upon hearing that gruff advice, but a clock on the wall showed he needed to hurry off to work.

Amos had already arrived and punched in. He sat across from Bart, idly cleaning his nails with the tip of a short-bladed pocket knife. Bart had his hands clasped behind his head, and was leaning back comfortably when Harvey got there. Bart then sat forward suddenly and drummed out a hasty tattoo on the desktop.

“I’m thinking about moving Maggie to evenings, and let her work with Amos for awhile.”

“Hey, that’s fine with me. Oh, and here -- you can take these heavy things back, since I’ll never use them anyway.”

Harvey laid his pair of handcuffs on the desk. A smug, thin-lipped smile spread across Bart’s face as he pulled something small from out of his watch pocket. He then slowly leaned over on the elbow of an arm that held up a tiny, silvery key.

“I was really expecting either you or Maggie to call me during the middle of night, looking for this.”

Amos snorted a laugh, and then he reached for the silver bracelets.

“Let me hold on to them some, boss.”

Bart lifted a palm upwards and said sure.

Harvey took a seat, grinning at Bart’s sly inference.

Kathy walked in then, swinging her keys in a tight little circle.

Bart barked at her before she even cleared the door,

“What! No coffee? Am I on your list now, girl?”

She stood still and gave him a pained look before leaving to get his cup.

“You guys and your darn coffee!”

Bart leaned his head back again, and then he asked Harvey,

“So how’s your new place going over there?”

Harvey gave him the news.

Bart listened with a grim expression at first, and then he spat.

“That guy’s a damn slumlord. I’d call the Health Department on him.”

“Hell, Bart. I just want me a refrigerator that won’t freeze everything I put in it.”

That evening after work, Harvey stopped by a market. Then, when he unlocked his apartment door, the first thing he saw was the small mound of fur laying on the bed in the back room. It raised its tiny head as Harvey shut the door, and then mewed twice.

“Hey, Fearless! Look! I got bacon!”

Harvey placed a carton of eggs, a block of butter and a small jar of mayonnaise in the fridge. He also shut the switch off; the freezer compartment had grown by two inches during the day, due to a coating of ice.

After filling a small aluminum pie pan with cat food, he fried up a portion of the bacon. He shared a few bite with Fearless, and then washed out the pan. Later the two played, and much later that night, Harvey began to worry.

If I leave the switch off, things might spoil.

If I leave it on, they’ll all freeze.

He decided to stay up past midnight, but he planned on waking up earlier in the morning. Maybe a shorter freeze cycle during the night would do the trick.

Fearless didn’t object to the first idea at all, and so he danced and bounced across the bed until he wore his tiny self out.

Now of course, Harvey overslept. He then had to rush to thaw milk, shower and dress; all in order to stop by and see Stiles again. He found the office door there locked; the sign gone off the nail.

Telling Bart and the crew about a dozen frozen eggs put him in a funk for most of the day, even with Bart and Amos both vowing to go over and threaten Stiles if they had to.

Harvey had replied,

“He probably doesn’t realize just how bad it really is, so I’ll go over and see him again tonight. Surely they must have an extra refrigerator sitting around somewhere.”

Maggie came in to the store around one, along with her little daughter and her old man in tow. Harvey accidentally met the trio out on the floor. He saw Maggie, who was pushing a shopping cart filled with some items, and with Nature, who stood close to her side, hugging tight to her mother’s leg.

“Harvey! Hey, come here and meet Danny, my old man. Danny, this is Harvey I was telling you about.”

Maggie in her heels looked to be six inches taller than her rotund partner. The happy-faced man wore a loose-fitting, tie-dyed shirt and a pair of cut-off jeans, along with open-toed, regulation leather sandals. His straight black hair framed a short but scruffy beard. He gave Harvey a big, friendly smile, and then shook his hand hippie-style.

“Bart called me last night at home and said I was working with Amos now. I told him sure, why not.”

“Yeah, he told me. Y’all just shopping now, or what?”

“I start in an hour, so yeah, we needed some things first, plus I get to show Danny where I work.”

“Cool. So you work too, Danny?”

“Oh, he can’t. He is still on disability for at least three more months.”

Danny grinned as the tiny blonde-haired child peeked around Maggie’s leg.

Maggie patted her curls and said,

“Stop being so clingy, Nature. And don’t be shy -- say hello.”

She then began pushing the cart slow while Nature hid behind her, and the four began walking together as they talked. Maggie stopped and introduced Danny and Nature to each of the few orange-vested employees they came across, which made Harvey wonder if that was the real reason why Bart had changed her shift. She was something of a friendly sort, he had noticed.

The Spanish lady with the thick glasses, the one who had interrupted him and Bart in the break room on his first day, made the biggest fuss over the angelic little girl and her blonde curly hair.

“Oh, my! How pretty she is! And she looks just like you, too.”

Maggie smiled her toothy smile at Maria.

At four-thirty, Harvey pushed on the wooden door to Stiles’ office. From out of the gloom, a set of dulled eyes rose to stare up at Harvey.

“What do you want?”

Harvey related his story about all the ruined food while Stiles sat, gazing at him impassively. He then put his elbows up on the desk, clasped his hands together and sighed as he looked over at the wall to his left, and then he turned back to Harvey and dismissed him tiredly with,

“I’ll see what I can come up with.”

After thanking Stiles, Harvey pulled the office door shut, but as he trudged the stairs to his own door, he suspected that he had just been brushed off, and felt properly discouraged by the man’s poor attitude.

Fearless cheered him up, though. Right away, the two began taking turns chasing each other around the room, and then from one room into another and back.

Later, when Fearless began looking bushed, Harvey stopped to open the refrigerator door. He had left the switch off that morning, since things were all frozen solid, but what he saw inside was a wet mess. His soggy package of bacon he had left on the bottom shelf now floated in an inch of brownish water. The gray metal sides of the freezer box held no trace of ice.

“Damn it to hell!”

Fearless sat over by the sink, his round innocent eyes following Harvey as he toted things to the trash and mopped up water with paper towels.

“Son of a damn fucking bitch!”

Fearless just blinked.

“Screw this, man. This is first-class bullshit. Let’s you and me go out to eat tonight.”

And with that, he scooped up the kitten and drove him down Route One to get a hamburger and a chocolate shake, which they both consumed with a great deal of pleasure before retiring to their humble home.

Harvey set a pan of water on the stove and turned on the burner while Fearless scampered about, chasing after his imagination. And while the cat continued to play, he took out a new deck of playing cards and fixed himself a cup of coffee. The cat was still going strong long after his third hand of solitaire, which made Harvey wonder if giving the cat chocolate was such a good idea.

“Hey, dummy. Slow down, will you? You going to wear out my tile floor.”

The kitten fell asleep way after midnight. Harvey shut off his outside porch light and the overhead in the kitchen, brushed his teeth and undressed, and then he crawled into bed next to the worn-out Fearless, who didn’t budge a single whisker for the rest of the night.

Work went well the next day, considering. Naturally, Harvey told everyone how bad things had went, so Bart told him again,

“Look. That guy is yanking your chain. Call the Health Department on him, like I said. They will shut his sorry ass down for pulling tricks like that, if he refuses to comply.”

He slid the phone over.

“Go ahead. I’ll look up the number for you right now.”

Back at the apartment, Harvey saw no new refrigerator where his old one sat, so he felt fine with the decision he had made to place the call. The lady there had at least sounded helpful, if but to only listen to his complaint. And she had promised she would try and do something about it.

Maybe Bart was right.

He and Fearless went to pick up a pizza, and after supper, both went to bed late.

Just as he dozed off, Harvey heard a knock on his door. He jumped up, pulled on his jeans and went to see who was there. He flipped the porch light on, and on the porch he saw Stiles standing with his hands resting on his hips and his head cocked to one side. He was looking down at his shoes, and he appeared to be winded from his climb.

Right behind him stood a tall, unknown man with sunken eyes. Something told Harvey not to open the door, especially after he noticed how Stiles weaved slightly as he stood and waited. But the deed had been done -- he had already turned on the light. They all now knew that he was there on the other side of the door.

Harvey spoke through the glass.

“Yeah? What do you need?”

He thought he saw the gaunt one smile faintly.

“We have your refrigerator downstairs.”

My refrigerator? At this time of the morning?

“Are you kidding?”

Stiles answered him impatiently.

“You want the damn thing or not?”

Curious, Harvey unwittingly unlatched his lock. As soon as it clicked, the door burst open part-way, stopped only by Harvey’s big foot. But it was just enough.

Stiles then threw a punch aimed right at his nose. Maybe he was too drunk, or maybe Harvey was just faster, but the fist barely grazed his right cheek.

“You gay-ass motherfucker! I’ll teach you to sic the Health Department on me!”

In a blur, Stiles came bumbling in with the tall man hovering right behind him. Harvey fell back immediately, and in a flash he remembered one of the cardboard boxes Maggie had helped him carry in. It still sat unpacked in the far corner across the kitchen.

Stiles hesitated just enough, once inside the doorway, and Harvey got a distinct impression of the gaunt one coming around to his side at the same time that he dove for the box.

Inside lay his tools from a summer he had worked as a roofer, and from among a tangled pile of old nail aprons, tar-stained razor knives and a silvery, metal tray for holding wood shingle nails, he withdrew a blue-handled, razor-sharp hatchet.

As he raised the tool from the rubble, the thought occurred to him how he had spent an hour one summer, watching an old German blacksmith removing most of the original blade, and then he had stood by and witnessed how the man methodically welded on a new section of England’s finest Sheffield steel to take its place.

He had observed the master next as he lovingly honed the cutting edge of the blade, and he had left the ancient’s forge afterwards, satisfied that he now carried the most magnificent tool that he had ever possessed.

Every roofer he met thereafter had shown both admiration and envy for the craftsman’s meticulous handiwork.

Less than two years had passed since that time, but the edge still continued to shave his arm when asked.

Harvey stood up tall with the hatchet raised beside his head. The metal stripper box made a horrible racket when it clanged to the dark floor just as one of the men at the door flipped the kitchen light switch on. Out of the corner of his eye, Harvey caught a vision of Fearless arched up in the bedroom doorway, baring his needle-sharp fangs at the two.

“The faggot’s got a cat, boss.”

Stiles’ dull, reddened eyes wandered from the hatchet in the air next to Harvey’s head, and then to the enraged cat in the bedroom doorway, and then back to Harvey. The man looked befuddled for a second, and he staggered slightly just before he slurred.

“You can’t keep no damn cat in my units, you fag.”

Harvey brandished the sharp ax at the two intruders who both stood rooted firm to their spots, but each unsure of what to do next.

“This thing will take both your fucking heads clean off, pal. You want to try me?”

After a lengthy and glaring stare-down, the two backed slowly out the door. But by the time both had turned to clomp down the first flight of stairs, their bragging had already started. “Boy, we showed that gay-ass fag, didn’t we boss?”

Harvey overheard him mutter a reply as they turned on the landing and started their descent down the second flight.

“I ain’t through with his sorry ass yet.”

Fifteen minutes later, Harvey made a call from inside a well-lit phone booth. His hands shook so bad he could barely dial the number.

“Alexandria Police. What is your emergency?”

After babbling on for a few minutes about his incident, the woman on the other end instructed him to come down in the morning to make out a report, if he so wished. There really wasn’t much else they could do about the situation tonight.

“Sir, do you have a safe place to stay for now?”

“Yeah. I’m sleeping in my car, along with all of my things and my brave cat, Fearless.”

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Apartment

This is the sixth in a series of the continuing saga of Harvey Collins. After working a full month as a security guard for Zayre, he is now able to afford a place of his own.

The whirring sounds coming for his toes awoke him at four-thirty. He bolted upright in bed when it happened, and had impulsively drawn both feet to his knees before realizing the encounter was merely a bad dream.

In it, he had created a mysterious mechanical object that grew somehow.

It would strike out across the floor, all on its own power, and he had stood by and watched it grow -- watched the tip ends of it stir and grow longer, and he had done so with a certain amount of inner satisfaction too, as the brilliant device purred and clicked and stretched before his admiring eyes.

Ever-moving, searching and unfolding, each section went before itself in a most spectacular and wonderful way, but then the thing changed all of a sudden, and it made a lunge for his feet at the last moment.

Sitting on the edge of his mattress in the dark afterwards, the chopping noises the little silver metal cutting blades had made as they approached his toes kept whirring around and around in Harvey’s mind.

When he told Les the story later under the full light of the morning kitchen downstairs, Les shook his head and looked at him like he was hopeless, but he laughed too.

“I told you before -- being in Amway years ago messed you up bad, man. Now you’re seeing things running across my floors.”

Around mid-morning at the Zayre store, Maggie and Harvey sat at one of the tables in the snack bar. He wolfed down an egg-on-muffin sandwich while she had a cup of hot tea and worked at memorizing her Miranda card.

Harvey said between bites,

“You really don’t have to do all that, you know. Just read it aloud like it’s written.”

Zayre stores kept up-beat contemporary music playing on their public address system. Every so often a cashier would interrupt, calling for a price check of some item, or one of the assistant managers might break in and ruin the best parts of a tune by droning on about an up-coming sale in any given department.

Elton John was currently rocking with Philadelphia Freedom while the two took their break.

After a few minutes she slipped the small card back inside her wallet, and then she asked,

“So what is with the mailbox codes you guys use?”

“That’s something that Bart came up with, I suppose. If you hear someone announce so-and-so to the mailbox, that means that person is to go to the foyer immediately to offer back-up to another security guard. It’s just a precaution.

But if they say Taylor to the mailbox, drop everything and run as fast as you can. That one is an all-out emergency of some kind.”

“Is this Taylor like a real person?”

“No. It’s just a code.”

She sat forward and sipped at her tea, and her green eyes sparkled with interest.

“Do you get a lot of those here?”

“We had one just last week. It was my first, and I can tell you it was a mad-house on the floor for awhile.”

Harvey downed the last small bite of muffin and wiped at his mouth with a napkin.

Maggie’s steady eyes hovered above the rim of her cup.

“So go on -- what happened?”

“I was sitting up over Appliances, where you were yesterday. It was a slow day, too. But I hadn’t been there long when I seen these three black dudes come walking in through the foyer, and I don’t know -- for some reason they looked suspicious right off the bat, mainly because of the cocky way they were walking. So I kept my eyes on them to see where they were headed.

All three go straight back to Automotive, so I run down to that window and squatted down there. As soon as I did, one was already standing down at the end cap, keeping a look-out, while the other two were busy looking at some tools right below me.

I remember one guy took a tape measure down, tore the package open and then stuffed the tape in his shirt pocket, but then his partner laughed when he did that, because it wouldn’t fit. And the other guy, he laughed too, but then he pitched it back in with some other stuff in the bin.

Then one of them picked up a screwdriver, and he looked over at the third guy before slipping the thing into his back pocket, just as slick as you please. That’s when I called Bart on the phone.”

Maggie listened well, and didn’t bother to interrupt.

“He said to stay there and keep a close eye on them. He was going to go stand by the service desk, and when they left, I was to call him there. So I did.”

The Bee Gee’s had begun to belt out Jive Talkin’ as the two stood up and cleared their table off before moving back out onto the floor.

Harvey then lead her down the center aisle, heading for the front doors to show where the rest of the event had played out. About halfway, he pointed to a large amber window up above the security office.

“See that? That’s the manager’s office up there.”

Maggie nodded as the two strolled toward the front.

“Well, as soon as them two left the Automotive aisle, I took off and came down out by the door over next to Cosmetics.

I wasn’t expecting anything, really. But then I looked across the store and saw one of the dudes facing off with Bart.”

Harvey stopped and showed Maggie a large, circular chrome clothing rack.

“He was standing about here. All I could see was his head and his shoulders. Then I saw Bart circling around the other side of the rack. One of the assistant managers was going around in the other direction, and I guess the guy must have felt pretty trapped then, because it looked to me like he was.

His other two buds had already shot out the door, but then all of a sudden, one comes running back inside, and he runs up behind Bart and gets him in a bear hug from behind. Somehow Bart got loose and grabbed him from the back. That fat little assistant manager just stepped back at that point like he was saying whoa, Nellie!

Then the first guy, the one with the screwdriver? He pulled it out and started lunging for Bart, but Bart had hold of his friend pretty good, trying to use him as a shield. That one was trying his hardest to spin Bart around so the other guy could get a clear jab, and that’s when the clothes rack went tumbling over. Man, all I could see then was kicking legs and flying clothes. Customers were scattering pretty fast, too.

But by the time I reached the service desk, I found Kathy standing there, all freaked-out and screaming to the girl behind the counter,

‘Taylor to the mailbox, woman!’

She then took off running to the upstairs office.”

Maggie had to stop him there to ask,

“Why did she do that? Why didn’t she stay to help?”

Harvey shook his head.

“Mr. Conroy up there has the only other telephone with an outside line, besides the one inside our security office, and our door was locked at the time. So she went charging up the stairs to call the police.

She barged right into Conroy’s office too, and then she points to the window behind his back. He’s sitting there at his big desk, and he is on the phone already, but he looked sort of surprised at her fast entry, she told me later. She thought he had already called the cops, she said, but he just put his hand over the mouthpiece, smiled that big smile of his, and then he asked her politely how he could help her.

“Who was he talking to on the phone?”

“Some vendor, that’s all. Kathy finally got him to turn around to look at the action, and when he did, he nearly freaked out too.”

“So then the cops came?”

“So then the cops came, and they arrested the two guys and hauled them off to jail, they told us. One had got away, and it took almost an hour before things finally got back to normal again. Customers were just standing around in shock, looking at all those new clothes laying around on the floor.”

Maggie’s overbite showed clearly as she grinned and thought about the wild scene.

Just before noon, Maggie spotted three teenagers in Ladies price-switching tickets between several blouses. She and Harvey then hurried the girls to the office where they found Bart, who was trying to repair an alarm for one of the jewelry counters. He slid his tools aside and handed her a form from the desk drawer while the girls all sat abreast on the straight-backed chairs, and with all of the evidence laying near their feet.

Harvey stood at the doorway, and after Maggie started writing, he asked Bart,

“You staying till she’s done?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”

“I want to run across the street over there and see what they got for rent.”

Bart gave him one of his dead-pan looks before replying,

“Go ahead. You’re still on my time clock, though.”

While Harvey walked towards the front doors, a clerk somewhere in the store was having some trouble getting the phone to work over the sound system correctly, which resulted in blank spots appearing as Band On The Run played in the background.

As he headed out to the parking lot, Bart went and stood near one of the plate glass windows overlooking the lot, and he watched as Harvey got in his car.

Back in the office, he told Maggie,

“That place over there sure looks seedy.”

She smiled up at him and said so did she.

Harvey walked back in the office at twelve-twenty-five sharp. The three girls, who now sat and waited for their parents to come get them, were being giving the one-year warning by Maggie, while Bart sat back watching. He glanced up at Harvey for a signal of how it went.

Harvey stood in the doorway and beamed.

“Paid my deposit, plus two weeks rent, and I move in right after work today.”

Bart flashed him a thumbs-up.

Harvey and Maggie then ended up spending the better part of the afternoon shopping over in Household, with her helping him look for cheap utensils and cooking pans.

“It’s got a small gas range and a dinky little refrigerator in the kitchen, plus a dinette table with two chairs. Then there’s a bedroom in the other room.”

He steered her away from curtains.

“I’m on the second floor, so nobody will be seeing me anyway.”

And towels.

“No, I have a towel already. Why would I need more towels?”

And linens.

“No, Maggie. The bed is already made, so I don’t need sheets or any of that, either.”

He relinquished, though, on a small throw rug she picked out, just before he went through the check-out line.

“You wouldn’t want to get a foot disease over there, would you?”

After work, Maggie rode over with him and helped carry two cardboard boxes up a flight of wooded stairs. At the top of the landing, he unlocked the front door, and held it open with a foot while she went on inside.

“Oh, this is really nice. And you have lots of room, too.”

“Well, yeah, like I have tons of stuff.”

The kitchen was brightly lit at this time of day. A row of metal cabinets were painted a dingy white. Some of the red and black floor tiles were cracked in places, and a worn spot showed through near the doorway. The small dish sink next to the stove had a yellowed look to it, but overall it appeared to be fairly clean.

Maggie looked through all the drawers for dead bugs while Harvey unpacked one of the Zayre bags. He set out dish soap, a new pan and a jar of instant coffee. He placed a small box of sugar on the table next, and then set out two cups and a spoon beside it.

“Want a cup?”

Maggie said sure while she searched from the bathroom.

“Man, this toilet can use a good scrubbing.”

“What do you take in your coffee, Maggie?”

“Two sugars, and that’s it.”

“Hey, just like me.”

As they sat and enjoyed his first pan of coffee, he asked her,

“Want to see something weird?”

He got up then and walked over to the fridge and opened the door. The thing looked ancient, inside and out.

“So? My mom had one like that, I remember.”

Harvey pointed to the tiny freezer compartment inside at the top.

“No, I mean this.”

And he reached inside and flipped what looked like a jury-rigged light switch.

“Oh, wow. What’s that do?”

“I’m not sure. I think it controls the freezer part. Goofy, huh?”

Maggie gave a disapproving nod but didn’t say anything.

“Hey, look. I should get going. My old man’s taking me and Nature to the park this evening, and I don‘t want her to miss out.”

“Sure. Come on, and I’ll drive you back over.”

As they walked together toward the store entrance, they both noticed the two little girls who sat in the shade on the sidewalk, leaning against the exterior brick wall. Between them sat a cardboard box.

Maggie walked over and asked,

“Say, what’s this?”

One of the girls spoke up.

“Y’all want a free kitten?”

“Aw, he is so cute, but I can’t take him, honey. I’m sorry.”

Maggie took the kitty from the box and held it up. The kitten meowed in her face.

“My old man would shoot me for sure. Hey, Harvey, just look at him.”

The cat had no tail.

“Where’s his darn tail at?”

The oldest girl replied,

“He was born like that.”

Maggie nuzzled him as he cried.

“Oh, wow. He’s a baby Manx, Harvey.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

Harvey followed Maggie into the cool foyer, and he walked slowly while cradling his new kitten in the palm of one hand.

Bart and Amos were sitting in the security office, talking. Maggie grabbed her baggy purse and punched her time card.

“See you tomorrow, guys.”

Harvey thanked her again as she petted the kitten one more time.

Bart looked at Harvey like he was insane.

“What in the thunder are you going to do with that thing?”

Harvey set the kitten on the desk for a second, and it hissed once at Bart and arched its tiny spine.

“I’ll sic him on you, if you aren’t careful.”

After clocking out himself, he and the cat passed by the service desk. When Beth Ann saw the tiny creature, her face lighted up.

“Aw, how cute!”

She reached out for it and asked,

“What’s his name?”

Harvey thought for a second.


Beth Ann cooed,

“Oh, I like that! I like that a lot.”

She held and petted him awhile before handing him back, and then Harvey took the baby cat and drove back across the street. On the way there, he stopped and bought a small carton of milk.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Harvey Collins is learning all about catching shoplifters, young and old. In this episode, he meets Maggie McKay.

The Zayre store lies a good distance south of the 495 beltway which circles around Washington, D.C.. Sitting west of Route One, the store is fronted by an ample and spacious parking lot. On the north side are several smaller shops, and then another line of stores makes a turn to the east, and that row extends back out to the highway.

The area is flanked on the south side by a cavernous building. Painted white, and with a blackened arch-top roof, the name Thieves Market adorns its face, written in a flamboyant Moorish script. Inside its roomy interior, made gloomy by not enough skylights overhead, buyers search among vendor’s stalls, looking for things called antiques.

Highway One is heavily traveled daily, and this Thursday July morning looked no different.

Harvey rested comfortably on one of the straight-backed chairs. He had his head laid back against the cinderblock wall, and the door for the office stood open. Bart squatted on one knee behind his desk while he rummaged through a drawer, while Shelly, who had beaten him to his swivel chair earlier, watched his progress as she sat and rotated, spinning from side to side.

“Here they are. I knew I didn’t lose them.”

Bart took out a set of handcuffs, which he held up and jiggled for all to see before laying them on the desktop. Then he stood, looked at Harvey and slid the silver restraints across the desk.

“You want to carry these around for a few days?”

Harvey leaned over to pick them up as Kathy walked in. She carried a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a her jingling ring of keys in the other.

The first thing Harvey noticed about the cuffs was their heft; they felt surprisingly heavier than he expected.

Kathy placed the cup on the desk, and then she took a seat in the other swivel chair. Harvey fiddled with the unfamiliar cuffs, latching and releasing one curved C of his new toy.

“There is your coffee, O master. Can your humble slave now get you anything else?”

Bart gave her an crabby look. Then after prying off the lid and taking his first sip, he replied,

“Yeah, you can come jerk this whirling Dervish buddy of yours out of my way, and then you can sit yourself down there and do last month’s report for me. It’s only due by four today.”

Shelly stopped long enough to aim a swing of her foot at Bart’s shin.

“Oh, those are so easy, Bart. Why don’t you try getting organized for once, you lazy bum, and learn how to do your own paperwork. Besides, we have shoplifters out there to catch, in case you have forgotten already.”

Bart feigned a fierce glance at Shelly. An evil gleam then danced in his eyes as he asked Harvey for the cuffs back.

“I’ll lock her bony rump to this chair and let her do the things, since she’s so damn smart.”

Shelly chortled as she jumped and ran for the open doorway. She stopped there and turned her head to say,

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so quick to talk about my weight, you big old bag of bones.”

Harvey stood up grinning, slipped the handcuffs into his back pocket and followed her out to the floor.

Bart yelled just before they left.

“Come pick up your checks in about an hour, if you want. Oh, and I hired a new girl yesterday, who should be in pretty soon.”

Then after taking out several folders from his desk, he began searched through the drawers again, looking for a pen. Kathy stayed behind, but the door remained opened.

Bart insisted on that, and had warned his men several times.

“Close that door with a female suspect and you alone in here, and you are asking for nothing but trouble.”

Harvey had been alone on the floor for a half-hour, and was trying to stalk a girl and two men he had been noticing when he heard a female voice behind him.


Harvey turned around and looked directly into the green eyes of Maggie McKay. The same height as Harvey, and even dressed similarly in her faded pair of dungarees and worn tee-shirt, she stared right back as if she knew him already. She had shoulder-length flaxen hair, cut in a layered style, but unkempt. Her shoulders sagged a bit, as if she was tired. She also had a slight over-bite which gave the expression set on her face somewhat of a sneer.

She stuck out a hand and introduced herself.

“Bart told me to hook up with you today.”

“Hey, fine with me. I’ve been following those three over there, so just stick close and try to act dumb.”

Maggie smiled for the first time.

“That will be easy. I’ve had lots of practice with both.”

As the two walked an aisle trailing behind the suspects, Harvey kept tugging at the back of his loose jeans.

“Where’s your belt at?”

“It’s not that -- it’s these handcuffs weighing them down.”

“Why are you carry them around?”

“In case I need them, I guess. Bart just gave them to me this morning.”

Maggie shook her head.

“A friend of mine took a severe beating from those things once.”

That got Harvey’s attention.

“A security guard?”

“No, a biker dude I knew. He was trying to beat the hell out of a bunch of cops.”

She then commented on the shirt Harvey wore.

“Zippy the pinhead, huh? I guess you must party, then.”

Harvey didn’t answer her, but nodded toward the one girl standing beside her two male friends.

“I just know that babe has been up to something. They all three come in here a lot, and they always act suspicious.”

A while later, as the pair took a break in the snack bar, Maggie asked Harvey,

“You married?”

“No. Are you?”

“I got an old man I stay with, me and my daughter.”

“Yeah? What’s her name?”

“Nature, and she’s five.”

Nature? Now, that is the oddest name I ever heard.”

“Well, me and my old man, we never got married really. We just had us an outdoor ceremony under a big oak tree, with all our friends along and everything, and we been like partying together ever since. So when she was born, the name just seemed to fit.”

Harvey admitted that it sounded pretty, but then he scoffed.

“What did y’all do, hold hands and dance circles around the tree with flowers in your hair?”

Maggie almost choked on her drink then.

Afterwards, the two walked the floor together again. Then, as they turned a corner, they both came face to face with the trio they had forgotten about.

The two men stood up quickly as the girl stared directly at Harvey. She then gave him a scornful look and snorted.

“You are with security. I just knew it!”

All three then quickly left the store, smiling smugly.

Harvey abandoned the floor feeling embarrassed at being so easily identified, and decided to take Maggie upstairs to show her the windows. She took the stool above Records and Tapes while he sat overlooking his favored spot two windows away. The aisles of Health and Beauty Aids looked empty at first, but Harvey had learned to sit patient and wait.

From his stool he could see who came and went through the front foyer. Although far away, he watched those entering and studied their body language. Did they hesitate as if deciding where to go to first, or did they stride on in with purpose? Did their heads swivel as they walked? Were they seeking assistance, or were they merely looking to see if they were being watched? All these actions were telling things to him.

Then what area did they head for? Did they wander, or did they make a bee-line for something? Appliances, where television sets and radios waited?

Two or more teens together would always draw his attention automatically, especially if they went straight to Records and Tapes, and doubly so if they kept looking over their shoulders.

He could also see a portion of the service desk from his spot, as well as the several rows of check-out lines. Bart had said to watch the people there too. Some customers felt secure enough to slip things into their pockets while the cashier rang up prices.

He heard a muffled voice coming from the corridor to his left.

“Hey, Harold!”

Maggie, he groaned, and he picked up his phone and dialed her number. She answered, sounding puzzled.

“Um, hello?”

“Maggie. It’s Harvey, not Harold.”

“Oh, hello there. This is your new best friend. Look, I got two kids down here cramming tapes down their pants. What do I do next?”

One of Bart’s rules was to never make a bust alone, no matter who the thief was, or how old.

“Meet me down in the foyer.”

She caught up with him near the service desk, and her adrenalin showed in her eyes.

As soon as he quizzed Maggie for details, Harvey felt sure she had really witnessed what she claimed, and as the two twelve-year-olds approached, he could see the tell-tale bulges around the waists of both of the boys. He stepped in their path then and demanded to know,

“What you guys got hid inside there?”

On the way into the security office, he read the red-faced duo their Miranda rights as the foursome wove their way through the crowds, Harvey with a hand on one child’s elbow and Maggie holding the other. He also caught the lovely-looking Beth Ann glancing away as they walked past, and he saw a smile play on her lips, too.

With Maggie along side him in the office, and with the door standing open, he began to ask questions and fill out the one-page report while she leaned on the wall and gave the worried pair harsh looks of displeasure. Then after phoning the boys parents, their worry turned to a foreboding fear. Maggie seemed to become satisfied at that point.

The parents all came hurriedly, and all acted properly shocked. How could you do this? What were you two thinking? Don’t we give you enough things without you having to come in here and do this?

And to each of the guards, the humiliated people apologized several times.

“That’s okay, but understand that neither boy is allowed back in any Zayre store for one full year. It’s policy, ma’am, and they will be prosecuted if they do.”

Bart handed out paychecks at three. Harvey told how he was going to rent one of the cheap apartments across the highway with his check, and Maggie volunteered to help.

“I can use my old man’s van. He won’t mind.”

“Thanks, Maggie, but everything I own is out in the back of my Vega.”

“Well, still, if you need me, give me a call.”

“Get out of here, you guys. Bright and early tomorrow, right?”

“Right, Bart.”

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Very Classy Lady

Harvey Collins now works full-time as a security guard for a large discount chain where he encounters terrified thieves, along with a host of other characters even odder than himself. This makes the fourth chapter of his experiences there.

Bart found Amos and Harvey sitting together at one of the tables in the snack bar. Amos was drinking from a Dixie cup while Harvey was busy looking over the fish sandwich he had just ordered from the grill. The lead man stood and gave the pair a long look before he came over to pull an empty chair away from the table. He then sat down and rested his arms on top.

“So who’s watching my store while you two hot-shots are sitting back here goofing off ?”

Amos had removed the plastic lid from his paper cup. He tilted the container back and shook crushed ice in his mouth while he looked sideways at Bart. Then he sat the cup down and munched on the ice before answering with a shrug.

“Kathy is supposed to be. And they probably out there robbing us blind, boss.”

Bart’s face looked expressionless except for his eyes. He rarely showed emotions other than a mild look of amusement that he now gave these two.

He turned then to face Harvey, and he caught him in mid-bite.

“I wanted to tell you -- you get credit for the kid that Amos caught two days ago.”

Harvey stuck up one finger as he cautiously labored with a mouthful of hot fish. He smiled inwardly, though, knowing that his name added to the chart hanging in the office now had a new mark beside it. Amos picked up the cup again and downed the last bits of ice.

Bart slid his chair back before Harvey could say anything, but he leaned forward and cocked his head sideways before he rose to leave. He looked sternly up into Harvey’s eyes as he asked,

“So why haven’t you caught me anymore by now?”

That startled Harvey, but he managed to reply without choking on his food,

“Say what?”

Bart held on to his spellbinding gaze before he let go a short laugh. He stood up quickly then, and knocked twice on the tabletop before going.

“Stop by my office later. Your new badge just came in this morning.”

Barry pulled a loaded handcart backwards through a pair of stockroom doors. The two metal doors flapped noisily behind him as the cart rolled out onto the floor. Then leaning hard on the handrail at the other end, he began to push on his heavy load, heading for Household Goods with new sets of china that had arrived on a truck yesterday.

Dressed in regulation dark slacks, white shirt and orange vest, the stock boy had a pleasing smile on his face as he wheeled by Harvey, who stood looking over a display of cutlery.

“Hey, good morning.”

Harvey nodded politely in return, but said nothing. He watched out of the corner of his eyes as the young man and the cart passed on by, recalling Bart’s stern warning.

Just another employee not to become friendly with, Harvey thought.

In less than a week’s time, most all of the Zayre employees had managed to figure out who Harvey was, despite his best efforts to go unnoticed. The ratty tee shirts and his frayed jeans that he usually wore hadn’t been that much of a disguise, and he mentioned these concerns to Kathy while they pretended to shop.

Harvey had stood by patiently, holding the last two pair of slacks she had handed him. He sipped on a soda cup and watched as she pawed through a row of hangers, looking for something more stylish.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. Half of them are scared you might get them fired or arrested. Here, hold this one, too.”

A female customer at a near-by rack pulled out a blouse and placed it against her chest, and then she read the tag on how to wash the garment. Harvey stopped drinking long enough to grumble to his partner.

“I swear, you’re going to bankrupt me, woman.”

Kathy spread a group of tan chinos apart, and snapped right back.

“Yes, I will, mister. You can believe that!”

The woman paused and glanced at the two.

“Better yet, go out and get yourself a real job for once, or I’ll be leaving you and our four little brats behind to starve. Then I will go fine myself a rich man.”

Overhearing that tirade, the other woman laid her item aside, but she gave the girl a worried glance before moving away.

Pleased that she had finally shocked somebody, Kathy put on her best grin for Harvey, and then they left the area also. Remarking haughtily as the new clothes landed in a pile at a lingerie display, she added,

“They have such cheap crap here.”

While walking down the center aisle, an Eagles song played over the store’s sound system. Kathy held the sides of her gold necklace and twirled the end of it in tiny circles, trying to keep the beat.

Woo-hoo witchy woman

About that time, she leaned over to elbow Harvey in the ribs as he stopped to look at a table filled with discount tools.

“Do you like to dance?”

“Not unless I’m half-drunk, I don’t.”

“That is so stupid. I never get drunk unless it’s on German beer.”

When Kathy smiled, she exposed her two large front teeth. Harvey thought it was cute, but he made her mad when he told her she looked more like a chipmunk.

“That brown crap? How can you stand to drink that horrible-tasting stuff!”

Kathy frowned at his remark.

“Hey, it’s not either horrible! And I happen to be German, you know, so watch it, buddy.”

“Yeah, right. Then let me hear you speak some.”

She held the necklace suspended and pinched between her two fingers, but she stopped twirling while she spoke a phrase, and she raised her chin slightly and smiled cutely.

“Du bist solches eines kind.”

The music suddenly stopped playing, and then a crackled noise came before an excited voice spoke.

“Kathy to the mailbox! Kathy to the mailbox!”

Kathy immediately spun around, and then she took off running toward the front of the store. Over her shoulder she called out,

“Let’s go! Let’s go!”

The two arrived at the front door, both winded from their jog, but alert and looking for some expected action. For the moment, though, no one else was anywhere nearby.

Inside, a figure standing at the service desk handed a telephone back to a lady behind the counter, and then stepped out into the foyer where the two stood catching their breath. She looked directly at Kathy as she pushed her way through one of the glass doors.

“You just missed it! Girl, I thought I was going to die, I was laughing so hard.”

Kathy had her mouth open, not just from breathing hard, but also from consternation. The coded phrase, “to the mail box,” implied a security emergency of some type, and yet she saw nothing but a tickled security guard standing in front of her.

“Missed what? What happened? Tell me!”

Shelly was skinny and short, had extremely short hair, and she always talked fast when she spoke. The woman also tended to act bossy to everyone around her. Harvey had no idea who was senior to whom, but he could sense a friendly sort of rivalry between the two girls.

“I was about to go chase away this little kid who was standing by the front doors.”

She pulled on Kathy’s arm and pointed outside.

“The brat was out there jumping and having fun making the doors open and close. But when I went out to yell at him, he took out his wee and started peeing on the door jam.”

Kathy’s jaw dropped even lower. Shelly kept waving her arms about as she continued.

“I mean right in front of a bunch of people who happened to be walking by at the time, the little snot.”

Kathy hugged her chin with the tips of her fingers and started cracking up with laughter. Harvey walked over to look, and sure enough, a fresh puddle laid at the base of one aluminum door frame. He pointed, and when Kathy looked down, she frowned with disgust, and she went,

“Eww! Now who’s going to clean that up?”

The two girls walked back into the air-conditioned store together, Shelly holding on to Kathy’s shoulders for support while they both giggled out of control. Harvey noticed a rivulet of yellow clinging to the metal just before he turned to follow after them.

The two had already disappeared through the doorway leading into the office by the time he reached the service desk. The lovely-looking girl behind the counter half-smiled this time as he walked by, and naturally, Harvey beamed back at her.

The name tag she wore pinned to her orange vest read Beth Ann.

She got the moon in her eye-eye-eyes

As Harvey went to climb the stairs alone, he remembered the new silver badge that now thickened his wallet. Taking a seat on the stool at the second window, he also recalled the marks he had seen downstairs on the chart inside the security office. Kathy and Shelly both averaged one to two shoplifters a week, by the recorded slashes. Amos led with slightly more.

During one week, the man had racked up a total of six, and three of those he caught on a busy Saturday.

Feeling unsure if he would ever match, much less beat Amos’ score, he scooted his seat closer and began watching the shoppers down below.

A half-hour passed.

Then a teen-aged girl quickly got his attention as she came and stood at the end of a row of shelves just beneath his window. She leaned to one side first and looked up the one aisle, and then she leaned the other way to see if that one looked clear too.

Now, here is a suspicious-acting person, Harvey thought with rising excitement, until she turned around to face the wall and began picking her nose.

After witnessing that, he hurried down to watch Appliances for awhile before losing interest at the lack of activity there. He settled for window one again, and while he scanned customers moving about, he wondered about the fate of the little boy.

From his position he could see the opposite wall of the store. Only one of the small windows above the fitting rooms was visible to him; the other was blocked by a support post midway out on the floor. Almost every aisle in Ladies, and almost every rack of clothes nearby had one or two people either walking or browsing for things.

Harvey had decided that no matter where he sat, he could always see more people gathered farther away than close by. That made it hard to see exactly what they were doing, or if they were stealing anything, plus it made it hard to decide where the best spot was located.

An attractive lady wearing a white skirt and a matching jacket steered a filled cart around the corner. She began pushing it slowly towards Harvey’s vantage point. He watched her idly as she took her time looking at a large array of products.

He felt creepy for the brief moment when she unhurriedly reached for something on a top shelf located just below his feet. She had looked straight into his eyes as she took down a small box from the unseen shelf. Or at least he thought she had done so, but instead of being rightfully startled, she stood perfectly still while calmly reading the label before she put it back and moved on.

Out in the center aisle, near Jewelry, two men and a woman waited at a glass counter. It looked to Harvey as if they wanted a clerk to give them assistance. One of the men kept looking around and Harvey thought for sure that he might be up to something.

When the clerk came over and began talking, the three stood together and listened. The woman then nodded her head and pointed to an object inside the display case. It came out. She slipped the thing on a finger and held it up. Next she shook her head while removing the object. One of the men laughed at something the other man said. The woman appeared to laugh, too. The clerk stood and watched as the three then walked away empty-handed.

Harvey pressed his face close to the glass and looked to his far left. Nothing. Not a soul. He glanced to his right where he saw the same situation. Two more minutes and I am leaving here, he thought.

The woman in the white skirt entered his view from the left again. She came slowly and paused to look at each and every thing she passed by. She then stopped to back her cart up, and then she turned it toward one of the registers close by.

One minute left, and I’ll move.

The lady stopped again. With one hand holding on to her cart for balance, she reached across her full cart, gingerly took a thick package of paper plates from a large cardboard display, and as she brought it down she inserted the thing inside her large purse.

Harvey stared with disbelief.

Surely that nicely-dressed woman didn’t…

He dialed nine in a hurry.

Bart answered.

“What’s up?”

“Man, I think I got one.”

He described then what he had seen to Bart, and Bart told him to go wait out in the foyer. He would meet him there shortly, he said.

Harvey stood out in the foyer and watched the lady paying at the register. In her early forties, she looked trim and fit. Her hair looked nice. She handed the cashier what must have been a credit card, and then she stood quiet and dignified-looking in her white outfit while the clerk punched in numbers on her machine.

Bart strolled out into the foyer, and he nodded confidently.

“Yeap, she has them alright. I got in line behind her where I could see down in her purse, and I waited to make sure she paid.”

“And she didn’t pay for the plates?”

Bart looked at Harvey through half-lidded eyes and slowly shook his head.

“No, she didn’t.”

“Well, here she comes now.”

She sat in the swivel chair and cried softly while Bart stood next to Harvey and told him how to fill out the report. She had no explanation to offer either of the men, other than a sudden impulse that had came over her, and she claimed that she was terribly sorry it had happened.

Bart leaned against the wall, unmoved.

“You aren’t allowed back in my store for a year. I see you, and I call the cops next time.”

After she left, Bart let Harvey know that he was doing alright.

Over supper that night, Les laughed as Harvey recounted the day.

“Now, what did I tell you? Didn’t I say catching shoplifters would be loads of fun?”

Saturday, June 04, 2005

First Catch

Harvey Collins goes to work as a security guard for a large discount chain where he encounters terrified thieves, along with a host of other characters even odder than himself. This is the third chapter of his experiences.

Harvey Collins took charge of the shopping cart. That duty suited him fine. But here it was midmorning of the second day on his new job, and for the last half-hour, his exuberant and younger partner had managed to fill the basket with whatever caught her fancy. By now, it nearly overflowed with all of her many choices.

He had stood by patiently while Kathy examined a display of higher-priced wine glasses. Then with a toss of her ponytail, she piled a box of four on top of a stack of colorful, plush bath towels. They in turn nestled on four fancy blouses she had chosen, taken from a rack in the Ladies Department. Each were folded and still on their hangers.

Before those, she had picked out a deep-blue woolen skirt, a pair of leather sandals she had to have, and then thrown in several printed head scarves.

“Don’t you think they are so pretty?”

Earlier, in Household Goods, she had seen a high-quality steam iron she said she needed.

“Oh, and look at this funky toaster! See, you can even heat bagels in this one!”

Harvey had groaned.

Someday, she had murmured, as she winked at him.

Then she smiled mischievously and pitched a boxed-up one onto the heap.

Most of her merchandise filled a plastic laundry basket set in first. The pair had indulged in a mock argument over the proper color, after which Harvey won out with his choice of green. Kathy acted insulted as she jammed the container down inside the cart.

“You are such a child!”

By the time the pair turned the corner, her eyes were sparkling again.

The couple strolled together between two rows of high shelves filled with big-eyed dolls and bake sets displayed on one side, and with Lincoln Logs, water pistols and toy cars on the other.

“Oh, look! Look! Look! This will be so perfect!”

She insisted on having one of the board games, even though Harvey objected.

For one of her nephews, she explained.

“Does that mean I am an uncle, now?”

Kathy rolled her eyes and began tugging at the front of the cart.

At one point she had picked up a baseball bat over in Sporting Goods, and after taking a batter’s stance in the center of the aisle, and trying to look serious, she had laughed with delight before including it in their collection. The bat now stood upright at the front of the basket, along with the game box and a rolled-up throw rug.

Both he and Kathy had fell quickly into their role as husband-and-wife, or maybe it was boyfriend-and-girlfriend -- neither one had given much thought to the specific details on this make-believe relationship-- but they both seemed to enjoy posing as a couple while walking the floor together.

Kathy had a cheerful disposition and a bubbly personality. She carried herself confidently, and she had acted more than pleased when Bart first assigned her to teach Harvey her secrets of spotting shoplifters.

So far, Harvey had only learned that she really liked to spend time shopping.

As they passed by Records and Tapes, Harvey complained as he pushed.

“This doesn’t seem to be working very good. Where are all the thieves and robbers at?”

Kathy adjusted one of the rings on her fingers as she glanced around. She looked fed up as she spoke.

“We could go up to the windows, if you want.”

Kathy had worn jeans to work. Harvey noted this as he followed behind her shapely form while climbing the stairs.

At the top, she directed him to the first stool.

“You take that one, and I’m going down to watch Appliances.”

“What do I do if I see somebody stealing something?”

She chirped over her shoulder as she made her way through the boxes,

“Pick up the phone on the wall and dial nine. Or just call me.”

“What does nine do?”

Her voice floated from far down the passageway.

“That’s Bart’s number in the office, silly.”

“So how was I supposed to know that?”

“Look on the wall.”

Next to the phone, a yellowed and dog-eared sheet of paper listed single-digit numbers for various phones throughout the store.

“Oh. I see it.”

From farther away her voice came faintly.

“You are such a child!”

In less than five minutes his telephone rang once, so Harvey took the receiver.


“Hey, it’s me. I’m moving down to Sporting Goods. Seen anything yet?”

“Just a little kid and his big sister is all.”

“Are they doing anything?”

“Yeah. The girl is pulling on his arm, and he is kicking at her legs.”

She snorted once before hanging up.

Three minutes later it rang again.

“I’m going to the snack bar. You coming?”

The girl below had stomped away and left the little boy behind.

“I think I’ll stay here a while longer.”

“Okay. Call Bart then, if anything does happen.”

Harvey couldn’t believe his eyes. As he hung up the phone, he pressed his nose to the amber glass and watched the child below as he struggled to rip open a large red and yellow bag. The boy then began filling his pants pockets with things that began to spill out across the floor.

Harvey’s hand shook as he dialed nine, and his voice almost trembled when Bart picked up.

“I think I got a kid stealing something.”

Bart’s voice sounded flat when he spoke.

“What is it?”

The child below crawled around on his hands and knees, picking up loot.

“I’m not sure, but half the bag has disappeared into his pockets already.”

“I’ll send Amos out. Where are you?”

Harvey focused on a row of small boxes setting on one shelf below.

“It looks like hair-coloring stuff.”

“Health and Beauty. He’ll be right up.”

The little boy stood up and jammed another handful of things into his bulging pockets while Harvey kept his face close to the glass. Then a gruff voice spoke behind him.

“Hey, man. You Harvey?”

Harvey nodded, and as he turned he saw a man dressed in a brilliant orange-and-black dashiki.

“My name is Amos. What you got down there?”

Harvey reached around to shake his hand quickly, and then he leaned sideways so Amos could take a look. Amos bent down close to the glass.

“Why, that little pissant! He’s got a bag of candy, it looks like. Let’s go downstairs.”

Harvey followed the man out to the foyer where they stood and waited. Harvey’s heart raced while Amos examined a bulletin taped to one of the plate glass windows.

He then whispered anxiously,

“Here he comes!”

The boy looked to be about seven, and he skipped as he came bounding toward the first set of doors. As soon as he crossed the threshold, Amos grabbed him by his left arm and shouted,

“You’re under arrest, kid!”

The boy almost came off his feet. But before he knew what was going on, Amos had passed the service desk, and with his tiny body in tow. Just beyond the last check-out lane, he started to cry.

Amos scowled and told the child gruffly,

“You are heading straight to prison, son. And stop with all that damn wailing or I’ll slap a pair of these handcuffs on you.

The kid began to bawl openly while tears streamed down his cheeks, and a lady at one of the registers shook her head with pity as the trio passed by.

Harvey followed Amos and the child into the office, and he stood in the doorway while the other man sat the boy down on one of the stiff-back chairs. Amos then took a seat behind the desk, but he sat and stared menacingly at the lad for a long moment before finally taking a set of forms out from a drawer.

“Oh, yeah, you are definitely going to jail today. Yes sir, you are. Now what’s your name, boy?”

Harvey felt almost as shocked as the boy. He had never seen anyone treat a young child like this before. Amos didn’t relent once as he began filling out his report, nor did the volume of the sobs coming from across the tiny room get any less.

Harvey then turned to see a matronly woman standing behind him who spoke up to say that she was the boy’s mother. She carried an arm-load of packages and shopping bags, and the young girl standing next to her looked frightened. The mother stepped forward and stuck her head through the doorway.

“What he do?”

Amos shot her a dark look.

“He tried to steal candy from my store, that’s what. But I caught him red-handed and running out the front door.”

Harvey had already taken a seat in the other swivel chair to allow the woman to step inside the room.

She looked down at her son. He had stopped crying, but his chest now heaved as he stared down at his feet. Amos then barked at the boy.

“Stand up and empty your pockets out! And lay what you got on the desk!”

The boy jumped to the floor and reached inside one pocket. As a handful of wrapped candies landed on the desk, the mother cried out,

“Oh, no!”

The hand went back into the same pocket, and another batch of morsels got spread with the others.

“Oh, my goodness, no!”

He switched to the opposite pocket.

“Lord, child. What am I going to do with you now?”

While the boy continued to add to the pile of evidence, Amos pushed the form over to the edge of the desk and growled.

“He is supposed to go to jail in just a few minutes, lady.”

The kid started to wail again as he laid the last bits on the desk.

“But what do you think? You want to sign for him now, and take him off our hands?”

The little man whimpered while his momma signed her name across the bottom of the report.

Amos tore away the bottom copy, handed it over to her, and then he scooted and turned his chair to face the thief directly. The expression on both males’ faces was telling. The mother stood still and listened as Amos then ended the interrogation.

“You get out of my store, son. And don’t you ever let me catch you back in here again. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The boy nodded his head up and down rapidly.

“It’s a damn shame your own momma had to come in here and see what you did, too. So don’t you ever steal nothing again! You got that?”

He shook his little head fast again, all the while keeping his big brown eyes locked with Amos’.

Later that day, and as Amos and Harvey checked out rods and reels, Harvey told him,

“Man, you were sure rough on that poor kid.”

Amos shrugged, but he didn’t say a word.

“But I bet that’s the last time he will ever steal, after meeting you.”

Amos almost smiled as he pretended to cast a line.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Rules and Regulations

As the two men finished their last cup of coffee, Harvey’s good friend Les gave him some serious and sound advice from across the kitchen table.

“I talked to Bart on the phone late last night. He told me all you have to do is keep your nose clean and your eyes open. You do that, he said, and you’ll do okay at the job.”

He picked up his mug, but before draining the last of it, he paused and looked at Harvey for a moment. An amused expression came over his face, and he shook his head.

“Chasing after shoplifters sounds like fun, if you want to know the truth.”

The sun had just begun to crest the treetops off in the east as they left the house. His friend stood and unlocked his car door, and then he watched as Harvey walked across the street to where a mustard-colored Vega sat parked by the curb.

Within minutes both men drove away, Harvey following behind Les.

As the two neared the freeway, Harvey glanced quickly to his left. The number of cars he saw lined up at the gas station made him feel all the more happier to be driving on by.

Les and his Volkswagen shot across the bridge, heading for Route One, while Harvey slowed to make the sharp turn that would take him northbound. Traffic on the interstate below looked light, and the day appeared to be both bright and promising.

The little Vega fell in behind a passing truck at the same time a voice on the radio announced the correct time.

“It’s six minutes after seven, folks.”

A lovely-looking girl standing behind the service desk picked up her telephone and spun the dial once. Then holding the receiver loosely in her other hand, her blue eyes began to scan the store beyond the spot where Harvey stood while she spoke into the mouthpiece. Her amplified voice interrupted music that droned in the background.

“Bart Jones, come to the service desk, please. Bart Jones to the service desk.”

Harvey smiled at her as she replaced the handset back on its cradle. The girl gave him an indifferent look in return, and then went back to thumbing through her thick pile of forms.

Harvey planted his elbows on the high countertop and relaxed, and he allowed his eyes wander up over her blonde locks before they settled on several posters pinned on the wall behind her.

No returns without a receipt.

Please check all bags and packages with the Service Desk.

Two Ids required on all checks.

“Hey, man. You’re early.”

He turned to see Bart looming behind him. Dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a casual shirt, he stood with both hands resting low on his hips, and the man seemed to tower over Harvey.

Clean-shaven, broad-shouldered and athletic, Bart looked to be just a few years older than him, but he had a lot less hair on his head. The sides grew thick and wavy, and what little he did have he wore slicked straight back.

“Yeah, well traffic wasn’t all that bad this morning. Plus I wasn’t sure how long it would take for me to get here.”

Bart kept a non-committal expression on his face, but his dark eyes danced back and forth, probing deep into Harvey’s. His jaw worked side to side slightly, as if he were slowly weighing the integrity of the younger man’s entire statement.

Then without a word, he angled his head as if to say follow me, and he swiveled sharply to his right. Taking large, purposeful steps and leaning forward in his stride, he led the way past several check-out lines. Both men then went inside a panel-covered group of offices set over in one corner of the store. From there, Harvey followed Bart into a much smaller room.

The senior man shut the door before taking a seat behind a desk, and then he motioned Harvey into a chair across from him.

On one side of the austere room, three straight-backed chairs rested against a painted cinder block wall. Next to them sat two gray metal filing cabinets. Simple bookends on the top held a short row of manuals, and a chart of some sort hung from the wall above the three chairs.

Harvey turned the other swivel chair that faced Bart and took a seat there.

Bart pulled open one of the desk drawers and removed a manila folder, which he laid flat on the desktop. Next he took out a single blank form from inside the file, and he slid the sheet and a ball point pen across to Harvey before replacing the folder and closing the drawer.

“You fill this out, and I’ll be right back.”

Minutes later, as Harvey sat and wrote in his name and social security number, along with some past work history, the door opened and a young woman waltzed into the room. She wore a nice ruffled blouse and a skirt, and she smiled openly as she went past the desk to one of the cabinets standing in the corner.

After quickly taking out a sheaf of papers and a thick manual, she turned around to asked,

“Aren’t you the new guy?”

Harvey nodded and introduced himself.

She then placed the large book on the desk next to his application.

“I’m Kathy. Bart wants you to look through the first chapter after you finish. See you later.”

And the girl left as fast as she had came in.

For the next half-hour Harvey sat alone and tried to acquaint himself with the numerous policies of Zayre. The dos and don’t rules he understood easily enough, as well as the dress codes for all employees; the more technical sections on overtime, pay scales and management training he read through fast, and so he retained little useful information for his effort.

He had just begun to reread the first page again when the door opened and Bart entered.

“All done with that?”

Harvey shut the book for his answer.

“Then come with me, and I’ll show you the layout of the store.”

Around the corner from the offices, a doorway led into a stockroom. Harvey trailed along behind Bart’s lanky gait.

Once inside the door, a set of wooded steps took them up to a narrow walkway that went to the rear of the building. Shelves on either side of the dim-lit aisle upstairs held countless cartons and cardboard boxes which rose all the way to a high ceiling overhead.

Every twenty feet or so, Bart paused and pointed to a small cleared area to his right.

“Those are the windows we use, and this is where a lot of your time will be spent, just sitting and watching the shoppers down below.”

Each of the openings measured six by twelve inches, and all were covered with two-way mirrors.

Harvey took a temporary seat on a small stool by one window to peer through the tinted glass.

“Nope. They can’t see you at all up here.”

As they made their way down the tight passageway, Bart asked Harvey if he like to fish.

“Not especially. Why?”

Bart smiled wryly.

“That’s what this job is like. You sit and you wait. It’s ninety-nine percent boredom with one percent of heart-racing excitement, and you can never predict when the fun might happen.”

At the end of the walkway, the men turned to the right. Ahead were many more stacked boxes and several more of the little windows. A steep and narrow staircase located halfway along the walk led them down into a back storeroom. There, three employees were busy unloading boxes as each one came rolling down a long ramp.

Bart spoke low and with some contempt.

“This is one thing I like about Zayre. We work as a separate division altogether, and we can refuse to do anything that Management asks, unlike security guards in other stores. That means they can never tell us to sweep or help out in any way. All we do is our job, and that is it.”

Harvey nodded his approval at that defiant concept.

The two men left the back area and went out on the main floor. Bart took him by a well-lighted snack bar and into a hallway where the restrooms were located.

“You have to be careful and not let people slip inside there with merchandise.”

At the end of the hall, he held a door open. A small sign identified it as the employee break room. Inside, a long table sat in the middle of the room. Several folding chairs surrounded the table. A lone refrigerator stood against one paneled wall. Bart slid a chair away from the table to take a seat, so Harvey did likewise.

“There are three main areas we are concerned with. The first is shoplifters. The second one is employee theft. The third is checks that bounce.”

Bart sat relaxed while he talked about store policies. When he crossed one long leg over the other, Harvey noticed the cowboy boots that he wore, but he didn’t say anything.

“Believe it or not, we lose more money with the last two, and employee theft is the hardest one to spot.”

The door opened then and an older woman entered the room. Bart showed little emotion as he acknowledged her presence.


She wore a pair of glass which had semi-thick lenses. A small gold chain draped from around her ears and looped back around her neck. Her big eyes seemed to dart from one man to the other, and it gave Harvey an impression of a jittery and nervous woman.

Maria sounded almost apologetic as she spoke.

“Oh, hi there, Bart. I’ll just be a second. I forgot to put my lunch in the fridge.”

As soon as the lady left, Bart looked at Harvey with a dead-pan expression.

“Don’t mingle too much with any of the employees.”

The gorgeous girl at the service desk crossed Harvey’s mind.

“Oh, and another thing -- dress any way you want. The idea is to look like a customer. Grab a cart when you are on the floor, and learn to blend in.”

Harvey liked that idea a lot.

Bart stood up and scooted his chair back in place.

“Just don’t ever come in to work dressed up as Batman.”

He laughed as they returned to walking the aisles, and he told about a man who had done that very thing one time, and had gotten fired for it.

While passing by the electronics department, Bart stopped to fiddle with a portable television on display. He looked grim as he tilted the set back and studied the thing, and he spoke in a hushed tone of voice.

“Watch that couple standing over there by the radios.”

Harvey spotted the two young adults right away. One half-sat on the display counter, facing away from the shelves, while the other appeared to be browsing.

“They come in here all the time, and I’m pretty sure they’ve both been ripping us off.”

But after a few minutes time he gave up on the suspicious pair, and the men continued with their tour of the store.

Over by the fitting rooms, Bart stopped to show Harvey the two hidden doors. Adjoining but separate rooms for men and for women sat against the north wall, and on each side, and concealed behind a row of hanging clothes, he pushed inward on a short and unnoticeable doorway.

“That leads to two spots above the fitting rooms where you can hide and watch over this entire section of the floor.”

They walked away and went toward a jewelry counter before Bart paused to turn around.

“See the two small windows back there?”

Harvey could only grin at the thought of a secret room.

In the men’s clothing section, he pointed out wire loops that secured a row of leather coats to metal racks, and he shook his head.

“You wouldn’t believe how some crazy will grab a handful of these and make a run for the door.”

They walked over to two sets of double doors by the foyer.

“The law says we have to let them pass the first set of doors before we stop anybody. If they get past the outside doors, they are liable to run on you, so always do your arrests inside the foyer.”

“What are you supposed to do exactly, when that happens?”

Bart reached for his wallet as the two returned to Bart’s office.

“You’ll get a badge like this, first of all.”

After showing the official-looking emblem, he slipped the billfold back into his rear pocket.

“Then you say something like, ‘Excuse me, but you have some merchandise that wasn’t paid for. Mind coming back into the store for a minute?’ ”

Harvey’s head was beginning to spin with excess information. This job might become a lot more complicated than he had initially thought.

The senior man smiled at Harvey's perplexed look.

“And then you give them their Miranda warning.”

Bart took his seat behind the desk, and picked up the form that Harvey had filled out earlier.

Harvey sat back down in the swivel chair while Bart read it over.

“I want you to work with Kathy or one of the others for a few days. I think you’ll get the hang of it easy enough. In a couple of weeks we might send you out for a three-day seminar, but in the meantime, it’ll be all on-the-job training.”

Bart’s self-confidence helped Harvey decide.

During supper that night, Les asked his friend Harvey,

“So how did it go today?”

“It went pretty good.”

“Well, what did Bart have to say to you?”

Harvey speared a piece of broccoli with his fork.

“He told me to keep my nose clean and both eyes open.”