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