From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

maggie's catch

around the middle of november, bart jones sat down with his security team at one of the tables in the snack bar. this was one of the few times he allowed the group to gather together in public. as suggested by him, each of his crew dressed in street clothes in order to blend in with the zayre store shoppers.

instead of his usual african dashiki, amos came to work wearing khaki slacks, a white shirt and patent leather shoes.

kathy wore a pair of tight designer jeans and a satin blouse. around her neck hung a long strand of beads, which she fingered constantly.

harvey laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair, displaying the front of his zippy the pinhead tee shirt.

maggie had her hair in a red bandanna. she wore loose-fitting jeans, a tye-dyed tee shirt and a pair of leather sandals.

no matter what bart wore, he always had on cowboy boots, which only enhanced his long stride.

as head man looked around the table, his jaw worked from side to side. then he leaned forward and spoke low, like he was sharing a big secret.

"the holiday season is coming up fast, guys. right after thanksgiving, we will see a huge increase of customers, which makes it easier for shoplifters to go unnoticed, so be extra alert for the next few weeks.

look out for expensive items like color tvs and leather coats. last year we got nailed bad on both items, and i don't want to see that happen again. understood? okay?"

amos sucked hard on a straw that stuck out of his drink, making an annoying sound.

kathy twirled the bottom part of her necklace and snickered when he asked,

"can we go now, boss? they must be stealing us blind out there."

bart glared at both of them and growled.

"get out of here!"

as the group left the snack bar, amos stayed behind to get a refill. kathy spotted an empty shopping cart, so she took it and grabbed harvey by the arm and spoke louder than normal.

"let's go find you some decent clothes, dear."

bart turned and pushed through a set of double doors and entered the back storeroom. a short distance away, a set of stairs took him up to an area where there were several observation windows.

maggie headed for the front of the store. she watched for suspicious-looking shoppers as she passed by electronics, and again at records and tapes. she walked each aisle of health and beauty aids without seeing anyone who caught her eye. undaunted, she also went upstairs and found a window where she took a seat.

an hour later, amos led a woman to the security office. bart looked up as they entered.

"what you got?"

"boss, you won't believe this."

he sat the woman down in a chair next to bart's desk. then he waved a slip of paper in the air.

"she tried to pass this at register three. the clerk was almost laughing when she handed me this."

amos dropped the paper item on the desk. bart picked it up and studied it.

there were two layers of paper, each the same size. staples around the edges held them together. on each side was a poorly-made print of a twenty-dollar bill. the fake bill had been colored with a green crayon. bart looked across at the woman, who acted indignant.

"i don't know how that got in my purse!"

in the following days, kathy caught two teen-aged girls leaving the store carrying a zayre bag filled with several unpurchased blouses. she wrote them up and called their parents who came to get the delinquent children.

amos spotted a teen with merchandise stuffed down his pant leg, but the kid ran when amos approached him. he and harvey followed the boy out the front door, but he had a good head-start.

harvey had parked his vega close to the store that day, so he changed directions to hop in the car, thinking he could catch the thief easily. on the way he passed amos on the run, accompanied by two zayre store employees. all three looked winded as he shot by.

up ahead, he saw the teenager, who by now had almost reached the main highway. harvey gunned his vehicle, but then hit the brakes as he approached a large speed bump. a couple of things happened all at once.

the car hit the bump and went slightly air-born. then when it landed, the car got sideways and began to skid across the surface of the parking lot. as harvey steered to straighten the wheels, he saw the kid up ahead, who was trotting along.

but the sound of screeching tires made the boy look over his shoulder, and what he saw coming at him frightened him so bad that he stopped and turned around and gave up on the spot.

the last few seconds of the chase even scared harvey, who had the brakes locked up, trying to halt the sliding vehicle.

the hatchback finally came to a stop with it's front bumper mere inches from the teenager's shaking knees. as dust settled around the car, amos arrived and grabbed the boy by his wrists. harvey remained behind the wheel and under the watchful eye of the boy who seemed grateful to be placed under arrest.

one of the employees looked from harvey to the car and to the kid in utter amazement.

"man, you drive like starsky and hutch!"

the day after thanksgiving, the crowds in the store tripled, just as bart had predicted. and before the weekend was over, four color television sets went out the front door without being paid for. each separate event had been witnessed by various clerks, but before they could inform security, the thieves, along with their loot, had vanished.

then on monday, amid a hugh crowd of busy shoppers, two men came into the store and went directly to men's wear. both of them each scooped up an arm-load of expensive leather coats before dashing out the front door. at the curb outside, the thieves jumped in a waiting car and sped away. it all happened too fast for bart or his crew to act.

on tuesday morning, it began to snow across northern virginia. by that evening, over a half-foot had fallen, blanketing the zayre parking lot and any cars that were parked there. however, throughout the day, a steady flow of traffic compacted most of the snow to a depth of around three inches.

the sun came out the next day, raising the temperature into the high forties, causing the snow to melt slightly. but as the sun went down, a bitter cold front moved into the area, and during the night, the parking lot became a solid sheet of ice.

because of the frigid weather, most people kept warm by staying home for several days. only determined souls ventured out to shop at zayre, which made the hours drag by for harvey.

he sat and talked to maggie with his back resting against the wall while she kept watch at a small window above health and beauty aids. harvey had recently exchanged one of his paintings for a large god's eye that kathy made from brightly-colored yarns. maggie wanted a painting as well, and was unafraid to ask.

"so when you going to do my portrait?"

harvey got a sudden leg cramp, so he stood up to shake it off.

"someday soon. right now i'm going down to the snack bar to get something to eat. see you later."

maggie watched over the empty floor below. half-way across the store, she saw a young woman with an older woman enter the store, but the pair kept walking and passed from her view.

harvey wandered around the aisles for awhile before settling down on a stool at the counter in the snack bar. he ordered a thick slab of fish fillet and waited.

as his food cooked, maggie watched the same two women re-enter her line of sight. she became alert when one of the women picked up a small item and slipped it inside her large winter coat. both of the females quickly turned and left.

maggie jumped up and rushed down the stairs and out onto the floor. she walked swiftly, searching for the pair before spotting them leaving by the front door. she broke into a trot, and as she passed the service desk, she yelled.

"call security! call security!"

a waitress sat harvey's order before him, and even though it was too hot to eat, he couldn't resist taking a small bite. as he rolled the burning fish across his tongue, he heard an emphatic voice speaking over the store's public address system.

"taylor to the mailbox! taylor to the mailbox."

the phrase meant big trouble, and all security personnel knew they were to respond immediately.

harvey leaped to his feet and abandoned the meal. he sprinted up the center aisle and through the foyer and out onto the sidewalk. there he caught a quick glimpse of maggie standing several yards away. she had an older woman pinned against the brick wall of the store, and the two were struggling with each other. as soon as she saw harvey she nodded toward the parking lot.

"i'm okay here. go get the one out there!"

he looked out across the vast sheet of ice which contained no more than a dozen cars parked close to the store. just past the farthest one, he spotted a woman pacing back and forth. from where he stood, he observed that she had her attention focused on maggie and her friend.

harvey stepped out onto the slippery ice and gingerly walked in her direction. unconcerned about the approaching stranger, she allowed him to get close before realizing he was coming after her. she then turned and began to run.

he took a few quick steps before tackling the girl, grabbing the rear of her heavy jacket. she halted suddenly, and when she did, harvey lost his footing. his feet slid forward, causing him to land hard on his back side, but he held on tight to his prey.

when he looked up, he saw into the eyes of an enraged person who now towered over him. in slow motion, he watched in wonder as she raised her right arm high into the air. a feeling of dread overcame him when he saw a short crowbar she held clasped tight in her right hand. the look on her face convinced harvey she was serious about using it, and he sat at her feet with a feeling of helplessness.

but in a flash, a black hand seemed to appear out of nowhere, and it grabbed the hand that held the weapon. harvey shifted his gaze to see the grinning face of one of the stock boys who had heard the security call and came outside to help.

all the merchandise was soon recovered. the police were called and the two detainees were taken to jail. in the office, maggie wrote out a detailed report while bart inventoried the returned loot which consisted of several portable radios and other electronics, as well as a few high-priced watches.

he stacked each item carefully, adding a final small blue package to the stack.

"you did good, maggie. there's over four hundred dollars worth of stuff here."

maggie looked up from her paperwork and shook her head in wonder.

"funny thing is, i only saw them steal one tiny thing."

and she pointed her pen at an inexpensive box of cotton swabs which rested on top of the pile.

bart gave her a satisfied look.

"some days that is all it takes, kid."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

remembering the alamo

my name is crockett. i'm a north american raccoon. i hate to admit to this fact, but i done went and got myself in a mighty tight spot from which there seems no way of escaping. this here is how it all come about.

ever since i was a kit, my moma said i was born to wander. she would also claim my taste for adventure would be the death of me. i'm afeared she might be right as rain on that point, the way things sit rat now. just listen, cuz i ain't got much time left.

as a lad, i used to love to hunt. when i would git home, it tickled me to no end to tell my brothers and sisters tall tales about all my adventuresome journeys i'd had. the wilder the story, the more excited my family acted, which i liked.

one time i had everyone convinced i up and kilt a bar with my bare hands when i was a teen living out in the woods. dang if they didn't believe ever word.

i got so popular with my brand of chin music, folks eventually sent me to congress to be their representative, but that never cottoned to my independent sort of thinking.

shortly after being defeated on my one-raccoon stand against the president regarding vast tribes of buffalo, and the gov'ment's horrible mistreatment of them concerning relocation, i quit the whole affair in disgust and left out for texas.

unfortunately, that place was overrun by mexican prairie dogs who wanted all new-comers to pay tribute by bending to their constricting ways and following their outrageous laws. it became the pivotal point of many a conflict between us arrivals and the mexican dogs, which then forced me and my kin to meet in secret to jaw about what to do for this sitchy ashun.

most all of us who showed up wuz lovers of freedom and shore-fire independence, and we all jined hands saying none of us could abide to digging holes and living underground, nor changing our diets to grasses and hay.

our first meeting started off rough. right away an opossum named travis jumped up and claimed he was in charge. then another fellow, a muskrat from kain tuck who called his self bowie started waving around this huge knife in disagreement. we all sat and watched as them two finally settled down and agreed to share the job of boss.

then after a lengthy discussion, the meet came to an end with one angry outcry: no mealy-mouthed prairie dog had the right to tell us animals how to act!

a few weeks later, our group and other volunteers converged at a small adobe mission in south central texas called the alamo, where we would defend agin a hoard of mexican prairie dogs. we knew they were marching northward, heading directly tord toward our position. our leaders sent out scouts who returned with grim reports of thousands of the rodents on the move.

but muskrat bowie took sick and went to bed. opossum travis gathered the rest of us troops before the battle could begin. his beady eyes sparkled as he drew a line in the sand with one of his hind legs. then he grinned as he spoke.

"who wants to stay and fight? cross over this here line if you so desire."

'course we all stepped forward. none of us had any use for prairie dogs and we all looked forward to gittin' rid of them pesky varmits.

after that, travis went to check on muskrat bowie, who laid on his cot looking poorly. he hung a bed sheet from one wall to another to give muskrat a bit of privacy, and then he assigned me to look after him and tend his needs. midnight came, and we soon fell asleep, being tard and all.

i suddenly come awake just now. the sounds of scratching and digging are all around us.

the clamorous noise grows louder and i bolt upright in my bed to listen. hairs stand up on my back and my ringed tail gits stiff and full. i light a candle agin the darkness and hold it aloft, noticing shadows dancing around our enclosure. muskrat bowie lays on his back and he don't stir none.

outside our private space, i hear the barking of thousands of mexican dogs as they begin to break through the surface of the ground. i feel a vibration made by tiny feet as they rush toward us. without warning, our curtain is pulled with a vengeance.

but before i can react, we are overru