A Penguin Comes to Tea

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I May Have Taken Leave of My Senses

“I may have taken leave of my senses,” Pauline said, opening the door to her friend Abigail, “but it’s made me feel a lot better.”
Abigail hugged Pauline and asked, “What have you done?”
“I’ll show you.”
Pauline led Abigail to the kitchen of her new apartment and over to the topmost box of a stack. Abigail peered inside, pushing the packing paper aside and took out a porcelain tea cup. She frowned at Pauline who nodded and said, “Keep looking. Open another box if you like.”
Abigail pulled out all the contents of the box, lining the cups up on the kitchen counter, then she opened a second box and a third. As realisation dawned, she turned to Pauline, her eyes wide open.
“Did you seriously—”
“Yes,” Pauline nodded with such force it seemed her head would fall off. “Absolutely everything. It felt wonderful!”
Abigail pulled her friend into an embrace, and the two women hugged and laughed until they ran out of breath.
“Now I know I can stop worrying about you,” Abigail said, “I can see that you’re going to be alright.”
On the other side of town Brian surveyed the boxes in the garage blocking the way to the laundry room. He supposed he had better open them and start to put the stuff away, although he really was not that interested in much of the things from his old life. Who needed two dozen teacups, anyway? Still, he would need a change of clothes soon, so, after dropping his briefcase in the office and grabbing a beer from the fridge, he went back into the garage to start unpacking.
The first box was full of saucers. Pretty porcelain pieces with flowers or squiggles and a gold trim. He wondered where they had come from, as he could not remember seeing them in their house. Perhaps they had been a wedding present and had then sat in one of the display cabinets that he had rarely looked at. After emptying the box, he had two stacks of saucers on the workbench, wads of packing paper on the floor, but no cups. They must have been packed separately for efficiency, he thought, and opened another box.
The second box contained knives: big knives, small knives, sharp knives and blunt knives, but no forks or spoons. He had never realised his kitchen had contained so many knives. He gave up on that box and opened a third, finding saucepan lids and, buried underneath, the lids to a dozen or more spice jars. He turned these over in his hand, wondering why they were in the box—he had no plans to start cooking, so he would have no use for them—but he did wonder where the actual spices were.
Brian stood back and examined the boxes to see if they were labeled. He did not need saucers, knives or pot lids right now, but he could do with some clean clothes. The boxes all looked identical, with just the moving company’s logo on them and a string of numbers which meant nothing to him. Perhaps he should have been present for the packing, instead of leaving it all to Pauline, but he’d had no interest in choosing which of the ornaments or furniture to have, so he had left her to divide up the stuff.
Brian moved to the other end of the pile of boxes and opened one more to reveal a single bedroom slipper. Ah, good, he thought, finally he’d found the clothes. He pulled out odd socks, a couple of gloves, his pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt that was definitely not his, but could not find the other slipper. He still had not found his favourite shorts and his Arran sweater, so he turned to the next box and opened it. Inside he found six of his suit pants, but no jackets, plus a couple of ugly sweaters of Pauline’s that he had always hated. Had she deliberately put those in the box, or had the removal people got the piles mixed up? And where were his suit jackets?
The next box contained one of his knitted sweaters, but it must have caught on something because it was half unravelled and one whole sleeve was missing. Brian frowned, staring at the sweater, trying to remember when he had last worn it. Then he took another look at the things he had unpacked so far. Odd socks, three left-handed gloves, suit pants but no suit jackets, saucers, but no cups, knives, but no forks, lids, but no pots.
Brian ripped the tape off the remaining boxes, pulled out the packing paper and tipped the contents onto the garage floor. He found the nozzles from the vacuum, but no vacuum cleaner; a box of bulbs and lampshades, but no lamps; a set of drill bits, but no drill; one green, one blue and one patterned drape; a single pillowcase and some flat sheets, but no fitted sheets; some DVD boxed sets each containing a single disc. When he unwound the packaging from the furniture he found six chairs but no table and a bed base but no mattress.
“Damn that woman!” he shouted, hurling one of the saucers across the garage where it shattered into tiny pieces. Then he stomped inside the house and picked up his phone to call his ex-wife.
Abigail was making her third cocktail when the phone rang. She put down the Martini bottle, picked up the phone and squinted at the screen.
“I think it’s Brian.”
She passed the phone to Pauline who was lying on some bedding on the sofa frame, her hands clasping her glass.
“What do you want?” Pauline said, struggling to sit upright, “miss me already?”
Abigail could not make out any words, only loud squawking coming from the phone, but she could guess what Brian was saying.
“I did exactly as we agreed,” Pauline said. “You didn’t want to choose anything, so we said we’d divide everything equally, and that’s what I did.”
More squawking came from the phone.
“What’s that? You would rather have had the cups than the saucers? But I thought you hated those tea sets. This way the saucers will take up less room in that new house of yours.”
Squawk, squawk. Abigail moved nearer to that she could listen in, and Pauline tilted the phone towards her, grinning like a four year-old.
“—and another thing; where are my suit jackets?”
Abigail opened her eyes wide and gaped at Pauline.
“You didn’t!” she mouthed.
“You got the pants part—you always wanted to wear the pants. I’m keeping the jackets as a memory item, and they’ll be useful for gardening; I can put all the garden tools in the pockets. I gave you some of my sweaters in return so that you can remember me. That’s fair.”
Abigail doubled over in laughter, imagining her friend’s ex-husband surveying his half of the family possessions. She had to admit, it was a good trick Pauline had played, and it served the miserable man right, after how he’d treated Pauline.
“Those are my suits! Mine! Not something to divide up!” Brian’s squawky voice yelled.
“Goodbye, Brian,” Pauline said into the phone and hung up the call. Then she lay back in the cushions and grinned. “Let’s have another drink.”

My Mother Was Constantly Confused

My mother was constantly confused over my brother’s business arrangements. Most of his schemes fell on the wrong side of the law so he was careful not to tell her much about his activities but he could not stop her from talking to people she met at her medical appointments, which often resulted in a hasty winding down of the current business.

It started when Norman was a teenager and he filled the shed at the back of the house with pot plants, while a constant stream of visitors called at night and at weekends, to ‘help with the horticulture’.

“My son has a gardening business,” my mother said to her doctor one day, “he has ever so many pots.”

Norman threw his weed into the river later that night, before the doctor could recount the story to the authorities, and he complained about his lost profits for weeks.

His next venture was an unofficial liquor outlet for the local youth which lasted for several months before the parents of the local youth found the source of their offspring’s frequent inebriation at weekends and paid a visit to my mother.

“Your son is selling alcohol to minors,” said one man.

“Miners? I didn’t know there was a mine around here,” said my mother, looking at the deputation on her doorstep. “My son has a business selling boots, I think, although I can’t say that I have ever seen any boots. I’ll ask him when he gets home.”

The liquor business closed after that and was replaced by a series of other shady ventures which he tried to keep a secret from our mother. I moved out once I graduated from school but Norman stayed, taking advantage of the large property and using our mother as the excuse.

“She’s old, she needs looking after,” he would say, while my mother would fuss and cook for him.

There followed a number of years when Norman dealt in stolen goods, buying them low and selling them on at a healthy profit but my mother’s mouth ended that trade also.

“My son does fencing,” she told one of the neighbours who called to talk about an actual broken fence on the property. Norman evaded that question by saying that he would get one of his men to fix it and then had to engage a real contractor to mend the fence, all the time grumbling at the cost and the fact that his activities may have been compromised.

The biggest problem came when my brother agreed to keep some cows for a friend who had been ordered to destroy them after an outbreak of disease on his farm.

“But is that safe?” I asked when I heard of the plan. “What if the disease gets into the food chain?”

“Nobody’s getting diseased,” said Norman, “and there’s no food chain if the cows are kept alive. Just think, we can have fresh milk every day and when the ban is over my friend will still have his cows, instead of being ruined, like the other farmers.”

“How long are you going to keep the cows,” I asked, “and “who’s going to milk them?”

“Only until this scare is over; a year at most” he said, “Isabel is going to milk them and maybe you’d like to come home and help?”

I snorted at the idea of going home to a barn full of illegal cows, although the sight of my brother’s girlfriend squeezing her ample behind onto a milking stool might be worth a day trip.

“And how will you stop Mum from telling anybody about them?” I asked.

“Oh, she knows. I’ve told her there are no cows here and that some film people are making a movie on our land, so there might be some noises and movements, but that she’s not to worry.”

I could not resist going to see the invisible herd so when Norman said he and Isabel had some business out of town the following weekend I drove over to the farm with my husband, Richard.

“No cows!” said my mother as soon as we came through the door. Her eyes opened wide and she shook her head to be sure that we understood.

“Yes, Mum, I know there are no cows here. We just wanted to come and see you,” I said, while Richard went into the kitchen to look for a drink.

“Have you come to be in the movies?” my mother asked, shuffling over to the kettle which was on a constant heating cycle in that house.

“No, Mum,” I don’t think I’d be any good in the movies, and Richard’s too ugly.”

Richard, who had found a beer and was looking out of the window, made a rude sign at me, which my mother did not see as she was reaching into a cupboard for the good tea cups, the ones she only used when visitors came.

“Oh, it’s just that I mentioned to that lady in the pharmacy that we had a movie set here and she said that movies often have parts for extras.”

Richard turned and looked at me, shaking his head in a way that said, “what has she done now?” while my mother set out the tea cups and saucers on the table, still chattering away.

“I told her the movie’s not a Western, as we don’t have any cows, but I don’t know much else about it.”

“Maybe it’s best not to talk about the movie, Mum,” I said, “we don’t want crowds of people coming to try and get autographs or anything.”

“But that’s just it,” she said, her hand wavering as she poured hot water into the teapot, getting almost as much water on the table. “The pharmacist says that her children want to meet the movie stars and can they come over here one day. So I said that no, they couldn’t come because Norman says we don’t have any cows and it’s all a secret.”

She looked down and noticed the spilt water on the table and reached for a cloth. “Now look what I’ve done; this movie business has me all worked up.”

I waited while she wiped the table, refusing any help, and then poured the tea into the cups, and set out the milk and sugar, all the time muttering about cows and movies. Richard, who hates tea, sat down with his beer while I added milk to my cup and stirred it, obliging my mother with the familiar ritual.

We talked of other things and soon my mother had relaxed and wanted to know about our health and our jobs and she appeared to forget about Norman and his deals until the door burst open and Norman himself came in, followed by Isabel, both of them looking very flustered.

“No cows!” said my mother at once, her hand raised to her breast, as if she were swearing in front of a judge.

“Mum! What have you been telling people?” Norman asked looking all around the room as if he expected somebody to be hiding behind the sofa. “I’ve had a call from the agriculture department who say they have been told we have cows on the property.”

“No cows! I said no cows!” my mother repeated, looking from Norman to the rest of us, becoming agitated.

“We’ll have to hide the cows,” said Norman, looking at his watch, “we have about two hours before the inspectors get here.

“Where are you going to put them?” Richard asked, “they’re not exactly small and you only have one barn.”

“We’ll have to bring them into the house,” said Norman, “we can cram them all into the parlour; nobody ever goes in there, and we’ll get Isabel to fry up some onions to cover up the smell, and Mum can be watching TV with the volume turned up due to her bad hearing.”

“You must be joking,” I said, but Norman was not listening, he had already opened the back door and was racing towards the barn.

“Come on, everybody, there’s no time to argue!”

It took us nearly two hours to move all thirteen of the cows from the barn into the parlour. We had to lay some sheets of plywood to create a ramp up to the porch as they refused to put their feet on the steps and they stood lowing on the grass while Norman kept shushing them and Richard, who was thoroughly enjoying the escapade, whacked them with a stick.

The whole house stank from the onions and garlic that Isabel was frying in the kitchen and Norman turned on the compressor to make more noise so that we had to shout instructions at each other.

“What about the movies?” I asked, “Won’t they expect to see sets and cameras?”

“No, we’ll just say they were shooting a scene with two people talking so the director didn’t need any equipment.”

An hour later, just as we had gathered around the table with plates of fried onions there was a knock at the door and an official with a clipboard came in. He nodded to us all and asked for Norman, while I held my mother’s hand, willing her not to speak, wondering why we had not taken her upstairs to her bedroom.

“I’ve had a report that there are cattle on this property, sir,” the inspector said.

“Well that’s not true; there are no cattle here,” said Norman, sweeping his arm around to point at the fields outside, “come out and have a look.”

Norman and the inspector went out to the barn and I turned to Richard and said, “did anybody clean the barn after we moved the cows out?”

He grimaced, and I could tell what he was thinking. Evidence of the cows was all over the barn. I wondered if Norman would be fined or arrested, and what would happen to the cows when they were discovered, and how we would ever get them out of the parlour. The band on the TV belted out its songs and the compressor whined while we sat in silence waiting for the verdict. After a while Norman and the inspector came back, both laughing.

“So I said to the producer that he could bring in cow manure to set the scene, but then they left it all behind after they’d finished shooting and now I’ll have to clean it up myself,” Norman shook his head as he recounted a tale to the inspector.

“I hope they paid you well to dump all that poop on your land,” said the inspector, who appeared to believe the story.

“Oh yes, we got a good deal, and they’ll mention us in the credits, too,” said Norman, and I wondered if he was going to name some big star who was appearing in the movie and further complicate our lives.

“Well, I look forward to seeing it,” said the inspector and turned towards the door. “Thank you for your time, and sorry to bother you.”

“Cows,” said my mother, who seemed to suddenly remember what we had been doing earlier.

“No Mum,” said Norman, “the man was looking for cows but there are no cows here.”

I gripped my mother’s hand and shook my head at her, while moving a plate of congealed onions in front of her.

“No cows,” I said.

“No cows,” she repeated as the door closed behind the inspector, “so who’s in the parlour then? Shall I make them tea?”

It Wasn’t My Idea

It wasn’t my idea to take Uncle Brad’s truck out onto the ice, but I guess everything that happened was my fault.
I had never been anywhere so cold. My hands and feet felt disconnected from the rest of me, and my nose felt as if it would shatter into a thousand pieces if you just tapped it lightly. I wore layers and layers of clothes, even inside the house, and when we went outside, past snowdrifts higher than you could see over, I jumped up and down, waving my arms like pistons while my breath formed clouds that drifted away into the dark.
“How do you live up here all year round?” I asked Felix, after I’d been there a week.
He shrugged and said, “You get used to it, I suppose.”
There was no way I could get used to living in a place that was dark half of the year and cold nearly all of the time, so I hoped Dad would hurry up and finish whatever it was he had come up to do so that we could go home.
My cousin Felix’s idea of fun was to grab a couple of beers and sit in his friend Jason’s room, drinking and smoking and watching reality TV. I went with him the first time, so as to be friendly, but I soon got bored, while Felix and Jason got drunk and passed out. I suppose I would end up getting drunk if all I did was watch reality TV at sub-zero temperatures.
“Hey, how about we drive over to Beaverton?” Felix said the day after the big storm.
It had snowed for over a day, with the wind shifting the snow into piles, so that it was almost impossible to make out any of the portacabins that served as houses in the small settlement, but today was clear, with a blue sky stretching for miles in every direction, while the sun did its best to warm up the permafrost. I was not sure I trusted Felix in the truck, but I did not want to be left alone while he and Jason went off so I struggled into my coat and boots, pulled my hat over my head and at the last minute remembered my gloves. You never go anywhere without gloves up here.
We never made it to Beaverton. The fresh snow was piled thick on the hard packed strip that served as a road and the truck kept getting stuck and then stalling. At least digging it out of the snow kept me warm; too warm, as after a while I could feel the sweat trickling down my back inside my woolen undershirt. By the time we got going, the last of the daylight was fading, with the sky changing from a pale blue to a dark purple with strips of orange. The first stars flickered in the sky like distant beacons and soon we were in total blackness with only the headlamps of the truck reflecting off the snow.
I had never been anywhere so totally dark before, other than hiding inside a closet, when I was younger, but this was a wide open space, with the land stretching out forever in every direction.
“We’d better turn back,” I said, wondering if we would have to dig our way over the snow lumps again.
“Nah, this road goes all the way to Beaverton. We’ll just keep going and crash at my buddy Dave’s place,” said Felix, while Jason nodded and opened a beer. I wondered what my Dad would say when he discovered I was not at the house, but I figured we could call from Beaverton and let them know where we were.
I stared out the fogged up window at the inky blackness and saw an arc of green shimmer across the sky.
“What was that?” I asked, pointing to the spot.
Felix and Jason peered through the darkness as a curtain of green light pulsed across the sky.
“Oh, thash’s the Northern Lights,” slurred Jason, who appeared to be well on the way to becoming drunk.
“That’s so cool,” I said, gazing at the rippling colours that appeared to dance across the sky.
“We get that stuff when the sky is clear,” said Felix.
The road passed between a line of trees and I twisted my neck to keep sight of the display in the sky, peering through the tree branches.
“Stop jiggling around,” said Jason, as I squirmed in the back seat. “Can’t you stop the truck and let him out to have a good look?”
“I’ll drive out onto the lake,” Felix said, swinging the wheel hard over to the side, which made Jason fall against the door and curse loudly.
The truck passed through a gap in the trees and bounced along a small track, without getting stuck once, and then rolled out onto a smooth flat sheet of ice in a large clearing. Felix stopped the truck and jumped down onto the ice.
“Welcome to Beaver Lake.”
“Is it safe?” I asked, looking across the ice covered lake.
“The ice is as thick as a door post,” said Jason. “My Dad comes up here ice-fishing and he has to drill a huge hole to get down to the water.”
I climbed out of the truck and stood on the ice, which seemed solid enough, then looked up at the sky, where the green swathes of light flickered like flames above the tree tops. It covered almost half of the sky, with the stars shining through the light like pin pricks. Jason and Felix began to argue about something and I walked away from the truck until I was standing right in the centre of the lake, craning my neck upwards to see all of the sky at once. I felt as if I was drinking in the light, trying to absorb it all in one swallow. Maybe it was worth living out here in the middle of nowhere if you got to see sights like this.
I could hear the others shouting but I was not ready to go back yet. I wanted to stay and watch the lights for as long as possible as the tendrils of colour twisted and floated, as if touching each one of the trees before moving on. I wished I could take a picture of the sky but I had given up carrying my phone when I discovered it did not work up here.
“C’mon man, this thing’s shifting!”
The honking of the truck’s horn jolted me out of my dream and I began walking back towards the truck. The floating lights were just bright enough that I could see the truck moving and I thought maybe Felix had begun driving off without me but then it slumped forward at an odd angle and I heard a loud crack followed by shouts.
“It’s going down!”
I saw Felix jump out of the cab just as the front of the truck sank slowly into the ice. I began to run, slipping and sliding on the ice, then slowed to a fast walk as I saw Felix back away from the lilting truck. There was no sign of Jason.
“What happened?” I asked, “Where’s Jason?”
“Oh, man, that ice shifted,” said Felix. “We must have stopped over an old fishing hole, where the ice is thinner.”
“Where’s Jason?” I shouted, looking around the truck.
“Inside the cab,” pointed Felix. “He went to get another beer.”
Damn those beers, I thought. Can’t they do anything without beer? I should never have come on this trip. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other, I slowly moved towards the truck and peered in the passenger side window. I could see Jason moving, so I reached for the door handle, but the door was locked.
“Jason!” I shouted. “Can you hear me? Unlock the door!”
The arms moved a bit more but the door remained locked.
“Felix, give me the keys. We need to unlock this door to let Jason out.”
I went back to Felix who was standing by the side of the truck, holding his head in his hands, and felt in his pocket for the key, but it was empty.
“My Dad’s going to kill me,” he muttered.
“Felix – the key. Where is it?”
Felix pointed at the truck, which gave another lurch and slid farther into the lake. I looked down at the ice between my feet, wondering if cracks were spreading, but I could not see anything.
“Come on Felix, we’ve got to get Jason out of the truck.”
I tugged at Felix’s sleeve and dragged him over to the other side of the truck. Jason was no longer moving.
“Help me open the door,” I said, pulling at the driver’s door. The truck was now leaning over on a slant, with both front wheels under the ice, and the driver’s door almost level with the edge of the hole.
I yanked the door open as far as I could and called out to Jason.
“Come on, quickly, come this way.”
I heard whimpering from inside the truck and looked in to see dark water swirling by the pedals and Jason clutching his leg.
“Felix, give me a hand here, we’ve got to pull him out.”
Somehow, I pushed Felix towards the open door and made him grab hold of Jason’s arm and tug, while I pulled off my gloves and reached down into the icy water. I gasped as the cold hit my fingers and numbed them, but I wiggled them and felt around the pedals. Jason’s bootstraps were caught on the gas pedal. I pulled and worked at it as my fingers became number and number and the truck shifted and settled, but I could not get the straps untied.
“I’ll have to take his boot off,” I said, yanking my hands out of the water and shoving them in my armpits. I wondered if my fingers would have the strength to work Jason’s boot off his foot before they turned numb.
“Here, move over,” said Felix, who appeared to have recovered his senses.
He plunged his hands under the water and a moment later camp up with Jason’s boot. I grabbed Jason by the arms and pulled him over to the door. Between us we dragged him through the small opening and laid him down on the ice, his bare foot shining white in the eerie green light.
“Pull him away from the truck,” said Felix, climbing onto the back of the truck, “I need to get something.”
I took hold of Jason’s shoulders and pulled him away from the truck and a moment later the truck gave a final groan and sank into the hole in the ice, causing the displaced water to slosh over the surface of the ice towards us. Felix, who had jumped from the truck just as it tipped over, was scrambling on the ice close to the hole, clutching a box, and he slowly crawled over to us.
My gloves were in the truck, along with Jason’s boot, so I stuck my fingers into my mouth and blew on them, but I could not feel any warmth. I knew we should put something on Jason’s exposed foot but my hands hurt too much to do anything.
“What’s that?” I asked Felix, when he came near and began to open the box.
“Flares,” he said, taking out a long stick and ripping open the end. “We’ll fire some of these off and somebody will come and find us.”
With a practised twist Felix set off the flare which shot into the sky like a rocket, leaving a bright long tail of fire. Up, up it went, until it exploded in a shower of flame. A single point of light set against a backdrop of green and purple. Would anybody see it? I wished the lights would go away and make the sky dark again so that our flare would be visible.
Felix took his scarf off and wrapped it round Jason’s bare foot, then pulled his friend into a sitting position.
“C’mon, man, we’ve got to get you moving. Can’t go to sleep out here.”
Jason shook his head and mumbled something. Felix lifted one of Jason’s arms and I took the other. Together we dragged him across the ice to the edge of the lake.
“Now what do we do?” I asked, wondering if we would have to carry Jason all the way to the road.
“Now we wait,” said Felix, “and make sure we keep warm.”
“What about a radio?” I asked, remembering I had seen Uncle Brad use one earlier.
“It was in the truck; it’s gone now,” said Felix, who was rubbing Jason’s foot through the scarf.
I looked around at the looming shapes of the trees, surrounding us like an armed guard. Above us the lights continued their display, but it was no longer the awesome spectacle it had been; now it was as if the heavens were laughing at us, and our helplessness.
Rescue came, eventually, and Jason’s foot survived the ordeal. Felix got into a lot of trouble for taking the truck and losing it but I think the insurance paid out something. Dad and I went home soon afterwards and the biting cold became just a memory. People often ask me if I saw the Northern Lights during my stay up north and I shake my head; if it had not been for me wanting to get a better look at the lights, Uncle Brad would still have his truck.

This is a Map to Where I Live

“This is a map to where I live,” said the leprechaun, struggling furiously to escape, as he drew spidery lines on a crumpled piece of paper using a stick and some strange liquid he had taken out of his coat pocket.
“And you’re expecting me to let you go in exchange for this?” Daniel held on tightly to the little man’s legs. “You must think I was born yesterday.”
“Well that’s all yer getting so ye can make the most of it,” huffed the leprechaun, going suddenly limp, then trying to bolt for freedom, but finding his legs still clamped in an iron grip by Daniel.
“So what will you give us if we do find our way to your house?” asked Patrick, “a wish or a bag of gold?”
The leprechaun waggled his head; it was impossible to tell if he was agreeing or disagreeing.
“You’re supposed to give us the gold now,” growled Daniel, “we caught you fair and square.”
He shook the leprechaun in the air just to prove it, provoking squeals of terror from the captive; whether real or imagined the boys could not tell.
“Well I can’t give it to ye if I don’t have it, now can I?” wheedled the little man. “Be reasonable. What sort of creature goes out to breakfast lugging a great big sack of gold around? Gold’s heavy, you know; can’t be just taking it all over the place for walks. Anybody might get a-hold of it.”
“Yes, but we’ve got a-hold of you instead, and you’re going to tell us where the gold is,” said Daniel, bringing the leprechaun’s face right up to his own so that they could see the whites of each other’s eyes.
“Like I said, there’s the map. Ye’ll be alright if ye follow the road I marked.”
The little man threw the map to the ground and crossed his arms around his chest. Patrick and Daniel reached out for the map at the same time, causing Daniel to loosen his grip on the spindly leg. It was enough. The captive wriggled free, and was gone in an instant.
“Hey! Come back!” shouted Daniel, but all he heard in reply was the wind swishing through the grass. “I should never have looked away,” he muttered and turned angrily to the map.
“What’s this? I can’t see anything!”
The liquid was evaporating, removing all trace of the drawing. The map was swiftly becoming just another crumpled piece of paper.
Patrick reached down, scooped up a handful of sand and threw it onto the paper. The grains of sand stuck to the liquid, and remained in place even after the inky substance had completely faded away.
“Hey, that’s cool – where did you learn that?” asked Daniel, staring at the still incomprehensible drawing, which now looked like a worn piece of sandpaper.
“We’re dealing with the little folk here,” said Patrick, “no telling what they’ll get up to so as to trick you out of their gold.”
“So let’s get going.”
The two boys looked at the map. A series of lines, criss-crossing each other, filled the paper, with no other markings, and no start or end point.
“That little rascal has tricked us!” said Daniel.
“Wait,” said Patrick, “we know leprechauns live in hollow trees, and we know that they are shoe-makers. Maybe that will give us some clues.”
“This map doesn’t look like a tree or a shoe,” said Daniel, gazing around the field, “and we’ll never find him again in this long grass. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off him when I had him. Leprechauns vanish if you stop looking at them.”
Patrick didn’t say anything. He turned the paper over and over, then folded it and unfolded it, and then rolled it up, all the time looking around the field.
“Just my luck,” muttered Daniel to himself. “Nobody will ever believe I really caught a leprechaun and I don’t even get a wish.”
“Hey,” said Patrick, “I think I’ve solved it!” He had rolled the paper into a tube and now held it out in front of Daniel. “Look, the little fellow did give us a map. I think these markings are the bark on his tree.”
Daniel looked closer. With the paper rolled up, the trails of sand really did look like cracks in bark, with bumps for the knots and branches.
“Great,” he said, shrugging, “and how do you propose we find the right tree? There must be over forty around here!”
“Easy,” said Patrick, digging around in his pockets, “leprechauns love shiny objects, so we just lay a few around, like this watch with an alarm, which I will now set. When the leprechaun takes the watch we just listen for the alarm and then we’ll know which tree is his. While we’re waiting we can check out the bark patterns on the trees.”
Daniel shook his head, but as he did not have a better idea he went along with his friend’s plan. Patrick set the alarm for one hour, then left the watch on a stone, together with a couple of bottle tops and a shiny coin. The two boys retreated to the edge of the field and began to study the bark on the trees. It was boring work. The bark all looked the same to Daniel, and as the morning wore on the map looked less and less like bark, and more and more like a messy piece of paper, but as Patrick was diligently working his way through the line of trees he felt he ought to do the same. Every ten minutes one of them would go and check the rock for the bait.
On his third trip Daniel found the rock bare.
“It’s gone!” he shouted to Patrick.
“Shh, we don’t want to give the game away,” said Patrick.
Daniel thought the leprechaun was probably watching their every move but he was too excited to care.
“How long before the alarm goes off?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” said Patrick slowly, “that was my only watch.”
The two boys looked at each other then burst out laughing.
“Come on,” said Patrick, “let’s stand in the middle of the trees so we’ll be sure to hear it.”
The boys moved farther into the trees and Patrick continued examining the bark patterns while Daniel looked anxiously around. It seemed an age before they heard a faint ringing sound from somewhere to their right. Both boys dashed through the trees until they stood under the one the noise was coming from. There was no hollow at the base, but the noise seemed to be coming from high up the tree.
“I didn’t know leprechauns could climb trees,” said Daniel.
“Me neither,” said Patrick, “but I’m about to find out.”
Gripping the trunk firmly, Patrick climbed up the tree and was soon high up, hidden among the leaves.
“Wow! There’s a real hoard up here!”
Daniel hopped around on the ground, wanting to climb the tree too when suddenly he heard a squawk, and a loud beating of wings. A large bird swooped down into the tree at just about the same height as Patrick. Daniel heard sounds of a scuffle and a moment later Patrick crashed down through the foliage, one hand grabbing at branches as he fell, the other clutching his watch.
“What happened?” asked Daniel, glad that he had not climbed up after Patrick.
“It was a magpie,” said Patrick, “not the leprechaun, and he nearly had me.”
The boys sat in the grass, feeling despondent. Daniel imagined how close he had been to getting the gold, if only he had not looked away. He poked idly at the map with a stick, then he rolled over onto his stomach. The map lay on the grass in front of him, and he could see the line of trees beyond it.
Suddenly he sat up.
“Patrick, look!” Daniel jabbed his finger at the map. “Lie down here, with your head level with the top of the long grass. Now look at the map and the line of trees – what do you see?”
“You’re right! These lines aren’t bark markings but the trees in their right position, and the one at the end must be-”
“The leprechaun’s!”
The boys set off at a run, bent over double to keep their heads level with the top of the grass, so as to check their progress against the map. They slowed when they approached the last tree and Daniel was sure he could hear the soft tap-tapping of a hammer. He lunged forward towards the sound and a flurry of green showed they had been right.
“You weren’t expecting us, were you?” asked Daniel, reaching to grab the leprechaun’s leg, but this time the little man was too quick and he darted out of the way, behind the tree. Daniel made sure not to take his eyes off him.
“Sure I did, jest haven’t had time to put the kettle on for the old cup of tay yet.”
The leprechaun lifted a big heavy kettle from a hollow in the tree trunk, waved it around until steam came out the spout, and set it back on the ground, where it sat, bubbling happily without any obvious source of heat.
“Been too busy counting the gold have you?” asked Daniel. “Where is it then?”
“What about the wish?” asked the leprechaun, “have you forgotten about that?”
Daniel and Patrick looked at each other. They had not forgotten.
“I think we’ll take the gold,” said Daniel.
“Ah, sure they all say that,” said the leprechaun, “they all think the gold will buy them everything they want, but they don’t know what trouble it is to spend leprechaun gold. No sir. Can’t just walk into a shop and buy fries and a drink with a solid gold piece – ye’d be arrested for counterfeiting. No, ye have to go and change it all at a bank, good and proper, and then they’d want to know where you got it from, in case you were laundering it, and they’d charge you commission.”
The leprechaun shrugged and turned away, “then the old historians and archaeologists and anthropologists and journalists would all want to see it – ye’d be lucky to keep a tenth of it. Ye’d be better off making a wish – then you could ask for paper money, like you’re used to. But if gold is what you want…”
The little leprechaun was hopping from foot to foot, just out of reach, but he did not run away while Daniel continued to glare at him. The boys had a hurried conference.
“What do you think?” asked Daniel, “I think he’s cheating us.”
“Maybe,” said Patrick, “but he has a point about the problems we’ll have with the gold.” He turned to the leprechaun. “If we ask for a wish can we make one each?”
The leprechaun put his hand on his hips and glowered. “Is it torturing me ye are?”
“A wish each or the gold,” said Daniel.
“Very well,” sighed the little man, “make your two wishes and then close your eyes and count to ten.”
“And have you disappear again? No way!” said Daniel.
“Fine, make the wishes, then shake hands on it.”
Daniel though for a moment. “I want a thousand, no a million dollars,” he said, “in notes of ten,” he added, to make quite sure.
“And I’ll have my own car,” said Patrick, “a red, sports one.”
The leprechaun screwed up his face for a moment and appeared to be concentrating hard. “Now shake each other’s hands,” he said.
Daniel and Patrick turned towards each other with hands outstretched, and as they did, their eyes moved off the leprechaun for an instant.
The little man vanished.
“Hey!” shouted Daniel, “what about our wishes? We’re entitled to them – fair is fair!”
The grass around the tree tinkled with laughter.
“Nothing is fair!” came the leprechaun’s voice from somewhere in the air. “I said you could make a wish and you did – so what are you complaining about? I never said I’d grant it for you! Hee, hee!”
And the grassy glade exploded with peals of laughter.

A Very Bad Day

There is something about the idea of finding a leg that intrigues me – why else would I keep coming back to this opening line?

When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was in a clear plastic bag labelled as first class hand luggage and I was supposed to stash it somewhere in the cabin.
“Why can’t it go in the hold?” I asked, “or at least be put in a box or covered up somewhere?”
“Regulations,” was the answer – it always is.
So I took the leg onto the plane before the cleaning staff had even finished clearing up from the previous flight and I put it at the back of the hanging closet – the one where we usually put the suit carriers – and I moved the first aid kit in front of it to hide it.
“So, why is somebody transporting a leg on a plane, anyway?” I asked the Chief Purser as we got ready for the flight.
“It belongs to one of the passengers in first class. It’s his uncle’s leg and he’s bringing it back home for burial.”
“Oh. Is he leaving the rest of the body behind or is that following on another flight?” asked Felicity, another attendant, her eyes wide with shock.
I had visions of the dead uncle being repatriated limb by limb and I hoped I would not have to see any more of him.
“No, apparently the leg was all that was left of him after an accident and the nephew wants to take it back to the family.”
I wondered whether the customs people at the point of arrival had been forewarned, but that was not my problem, so I set about getting the aircraft ready for boarding. I could hear the noise building up in the departure lounge as passengers were parted from their oversized hand luggage. It happened every time on the journeys to West Africa; people tried to bring sacks of potatoes and even live chickens onto the plane. It is a wonder we ever get off the ground in time.
“Welcome aboard. Good morning. Down this way on your right. Please put that in the overhead bin.”
I fixed my smile on my face and tried to hurry the people along as they boarded the plane dragging enormous cases and clutching overflowing bags, with small children bent over under backpacks almost as big as themselves. I hoped we would be able to stash everything away securely. Felicity had told me once a family tried to bring a goat onto the plane with them; that must have been quite a spectacle.
I glanced back at the Executive cabin where Felicity was serving the first round of drinks and I wondered who the owner of the leg was, and how we were going to get it off the plane at the other end without the other passengers noticing. I hoped the nephew had brought a large empty suitcase with him, or even a coat to cover it up.
“Excuse me, is there somewhere I can hang this?”
A man who clearly had expected to be upgraded stood in front of me clutching a large garment bag that would definitely not fit in the overhead bins.
“Certainly,” I said, trying to maintain my smile, “let me take it for you.”
I waved him on to his seat, not wanting him to watch me putting his suit away in case he went to retrieve it at the end of the flight and found the leg instead. Perhaps the nephew would be the last to get off the plane, that way nobody would see him with the leg, except that he would walk into the crowded terminal and be seen by everybody. No, that would not do. He would have to get off first, but then, how would we get the leg off the plane unseen?
I sighed and continued to welcome all the passengers, checking their seat belts, moving their enormously heavy suitcases and trying to get people to switch seats so as to reunite families. I was exhausted and we had not even got off the ground.
Once we were airborne and we started serving the food I had to watch that none of the other flight attendants stashed a trolley in the hanging closet – sometimes they do that if they want to move one trolley in front of another. All went well until a small child cut himself on one of the food tray lids and needed a bandage.
“I’ll just get the first aid kit,” I heard one of the flight attendants say, moving towards the closet, trailed by a wailing child and his anxious mother who was clutching a baby in her other arm. “I think I saw it in here somewhere.”
“Let me get that,” I said, thrusting a coffee pot into my colleague’s hand. “You go and calm the child and get the family reseated.”
I wanted to get everyone away from the closet so I grabbed the first aid kit and followed the sniffling child back to his seat then waited while he decided between a Batman and a ninja bandage. As I was putting the kit back together I looked up the aisle and saw the owner of the suit carrier looking into the closet.
Forgetting the first aid kit I rushed back up the plane towards the closet and its gruesome cargo, only to be stopped by the food trolley coming out of the galley.
“I must get by,” I hissed at the other flight attendant and pushed the trolley back into the galley, causing one of the orange juice cartons to topple over.
“Sorry,” I mouthed, then reached my arm across the entrance of the closet.
“Excuse me sir, but we don’t allow passengers to access this closet during the flight.”
“But my suit is in there and I need something from the pocket.”
“I’m sorry, you will have to wait until we arrive at our destination,” I began, but then realised that if he really wanted his suit he would draw attention to the closet with his arguing, which was the last thing I wanted.
“Er, perhaps I can get the garment carrier for you?”
I leaned in and unhooked the bag, making sure that the leg was still safely stowed away at the very back.
“Here you are sir, now we do ask that you move away from this area as it is an emergency exit.”
Holding his elbow firmly I escorted the man back to his seat where the garment bag flopped over onto the person next to him, and I made a hasty retreat back to guard the closet. Only another hour, I thought, and then we’d be safely there. I glanced at the movie and saw the closing credits rolling down the screen and soon people began to struggle up out of their seats to visit the washroom. It happens every time; they should really stagger the movie showings by row to prevent this mad rush as sometimes the line-up stretches into Executive Class.
Just then the plane dipped and the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign came on followed by the ping of the safety announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are experiencing some turbulence so could you please all return to your seats and ensure your seat belts are securely fastened.”
As usual the people at the front of the washroom line stayed where they were, and those farther back began to return to their seats. There must have been around twelve people standing up when the plane lurched again and dipped to one side, causing the passengers to lean against the seats and coffee cups to roll around the floor. I looked up in horror to see the leg come sliding out of the closet and come to rest in front of a young woman who opened her mouth and screamed the most blood curdling sound.
I was right; it was, indeed, a very bad day.

It was Time to Change Schools Again

It was time to change schools again. I would probably be expelled for starting the fire in the chemistry lab, but it was such a spectacular explosion that it was worth it. The magnesium strips burst into an incandescent whiteness that seared my eyeballs, even with the safety glasses I had put on, while the copper filings sputtered into blue and green showers and made me wish I had thought to put them in a tube to make a firework. The glass bottles containing some of the solutions began to explode just as the overhead sprinklers came on and showered the whole room with water and by then a small crowd had assembled outside the lab, wondering who the culprit was.
Mr. Denby, the head of science, did not even ask what had happened; he searched the crowd for my face, then pointed towards his office. I grinned at my friends and walked into the small room, and out of another chapter of my life.
I have loved flames ever since we sat around a campfire back when I was three years old and my father showed me how chestnuts would pop if left in the heat long enough, while my mother transformed small cubes of yellow corn into white fluffy treats, accompanied by a staccato of shots. I sat up all evening, watching the orange flames dance on the chopped wood and change it from a yellow brown colour to glowing red and finally to dark black with a wispy beard of white ash.
As we grew older my father would build enormous bonfires out in the open field and my brother and I would compete to see who could create the most sparks and the loudest noise. We burned some weird things in our time, such as a mannequin from a store, whose arm waved a crazy goodbye as it melted; old aerosol cans, which made a huge bang and half a sofa which sent up clouds of black smoke so thick that it could be seen from three blocks away. We coughed for days after that fire, and that was the first time the police visited our house.
“No matches at school,” my mother warned, when she dropped me off at my first elementary school. “And no lighters, incendiary devices or candles, either,” she added after the first week.
It did not take long for me to work out how to make a flame with a magnifying glass and the sun, and I can still remember Lucy Shen running away howling to the teacher after I burned her picture of a tree. My magnifying glass was confiscated, but I soon found that spectacles, broken bottles and even cleverly arranged plastic could work just as well.
When I was eight I burned my first real structure: an old playhouse in the park. One of the doors had fallen off its hinges and not many kids played in it any more since the city had put up the shiny metal monkey bars, so I thought nobody would mind if I got rid of it. Starting the fire took a long time, because the roof was still wet through from all the rain, but once it caught and the flames licked up the sides, reaching higher and higher with their flickering points all stretching up to the stars, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Then the firemen came and poured water all over it and my lovely flames shrank and dwindled to nothing, leaving a single black wall standing amid a pile of singed planks.
After that I was sent to the counsellor.
“What do you see when you look at a flame, Kyle?” Mrs. Jakes asked, while she scribbled in her folder.
“Uh, flames, I guess,” I said, wondering if her glass flower vase would bend light enough to make a fire.
“Yes, but what do you feel?”
“I dunno, like I’ve had a cup of coffee, I guess.”
And so it continued, year after year. How could I explain to her the surging of energy that rushed through me when I saw the flames leap into life from a small spark? The way the flames danced, as if to a hidden rhythm, never following the same pattern? That the roar of the fire and the crackle of the burning wood spoke to me like a symphony?
My teachers did not understand this either. At first they treated me as if I were slow and fragile, then, after the first burning incident, they were more cautious, and eventually they all became afraid of me. That was usually when I was asked to leave the school, but I did not care; school was boring. But finally I got to high school and discovered the chemistry lab and a whole new world opened up before me.
It had been a good display, I decided, as I waited in Mr. Denby’s office. Maybe I should have put some of the paper closer to the centre of the fire, or perhaps opened up some of the Buntzen burners. Oh, well, there was always next time.

A Weakness

Some might say it is a weakness, and Sadie calls it her hobby, but to Howard the collection of garden gnomes that surrounds him is an obsession. There are gnomes along the path, on the front steps, in the flower beds, on the window ledges, in the pond; there is even a gnome umbrella stand in the hall. At first Howard thought it was amusing when Sadie bought a new gnome but when she had over a dozen and showed no signs of stopping he no longer saw the funny side.
“But I like the gnomes, Howard, they add character to the place.”
Howard was not so sure about that, but it was easier to tolerate the gnomes than to cross swords with his wife, so he came to an arrangement: Sadie could have as many gnomes as she wanted, provided none were placed in his vegetable patch, and none obstructed him when he wanted to cut the grass.
So when Howard finds a brightly painted gnome sitting under a rhubarb bush he is not very happy.
“Sadie, damn it, how many times do I have to tell you to keep those creatures out of the vegetables?” he says, heaving the gnome onto the grass at his wife’s feet.
“How did he get there?” she asks, taking the dead heads off the roses, “he should be on that stone over by the pond. It must be those kids again, coming in and moving my little people in the night.”
“Well, if we didn’t have so many of them, perhaps the youth would find something else to do,” puffs Howard, picking up the smiling gnome and shuffling over to the pond. Sadie follows Howard, stopping to pull up a weed between two flowering heathers before repositioning a small gnome holding a hunting rifle.
When he reaches the stone overhanging the pond, Howard sees an identical gnome, although it appears somewhat weather worn, and he lowers the new gnome onto the rock next to the old one.
“Surely we don’t need two the same,” he mutters, “can’t we call a halt to it if you have the whole collection?”
“Oh, my goodness! There’s two of him!” Sadie says, “I wonder how that happened?”
Howard has a good idea how that could have happened. Somebody probably received a gnome for a present and wanted to get rid of it without causing offence; it is not the first time they have found other people’s gnomes added to their collection.
“Well, we don’t want two, do we, so I’ll just take this one away,” says Howard, bending down to pick up the new arrival, his face turning pink from the strain. “They must be making them out of concrete now, instead of plaster; this weighs a ton.”
Howard carries the gnome around to the side of the house, intending to dump it, but with both hands full he cannot get the lid off the garbage bin so he takes it into the garage instead and puts it on his worktable.
Howard has his own weakness: he enjoys the occasional cigar, a habit he began in his teens and which he has not been able to shake. Sadie won’t allow him to smoke in the house so he usually paces up and down the porch, inhaling the warm smoke and enjoying the brief feeling of calm. When it is raining he retreats into the garage and cleans his tools, which is almost as relaxing as the smoking.
Howard lights a cigar now and looks at the gnome. The red paint on the pointed hat looks brand new, and the black boots are just as shiny, as if the little man himself had polished them. Howard puts the end of his lighted cigar against the toe of one boot and watches the paint blister and peel off, then he shakes his head and stops himself. Although he hates the gnomes, if somehow feels like torture, and Sadie would be upset if she saw him. As he puts out his cigar, saving the rest for another day he notices that the gnome’s toe is visible under the paint and it is not white, but a shiny yellow colour.
Howard takes a match from the shelf and uses it to carefully scrape away some more of the paint, revealing a distinct golden boot. His heart thumping wildly, Howard scrapes the paint from the gnome’s white beard, and discovers gold underneath there too. He picks at several other places on the gnome and each time discovers gold under the paint, then he stands back and looks at the little creature. ‘Worth its weight in gold’ suddenly has a new meaning.
Howard imagines all the possibilities: he and Sadie could go on holiday or build that second bathroom or maybe get a newer car or-
Just as suddenly, it dawns on Howard that somebody put the gnome in his garden and therefore it is likely that somebody will want it back. What if the gnome is not under the rhubarb when the owner comes back? Would they break into the house, tie him and Sadie up and demand their gnome back? Could Howard claim it was now his gnome as it was on his land?
Howard does not know how criminals operate, but he has seen enough TV to be worried, so he pulls down his box of paints and carefully touches up the paint on the gnome, covering all signs of the gold, then he carries the gnome back out to the vegetable patch.
“What are you doing?” Sadie asks, looking up from her weeding, “I thought you didn’t want any gnomes in your part of the garden?”
“I kind of like this one,” Howard says, and places it under the rhubarb again, making sure that it is visible, but not too obvious. He does not want to give the impression that he knows what it is.
Howard walks back to the house, goes to the computer and types ‘gold’ into the Google search. Pages and pages of gold prices and gold merchants come up and he spends some time navigating around the sites, reading up about gold and discovering that the worth is all determined by weight, so he goes upstairs and fetches the bathroom scales.
At the door he pauses. Should he take the scales out to the gnome, or bring the thing into the house? Either way, Sadie will think he is mad, but perhaps he can hide the scales better than the gnome.
Howard goes into the garage and puts the scales into a garden bag, along with a trowel and a pair of gloves. He walks back to the rhubarb, kneels down and carefully places the gnome on the scales, making sure to keep it level.
“What are you doing with the scales?”
Howard jumps, as if shot, and the gnome falls back into the earth.
“Gee, Sadie, don’t creep up on me like that,” he says, pushing the basket between the gnome and the scales. “I’m trying to work out how dense this soil is, and whether it is right for the rhubarb.” He knows this sounds ridiculous but Sadie just shakes her head and moves back to her weeding, so Howard quickly weighs the gnome then goes back inside to the computer.
After a bit more research Howard discovers that he needs to know if the gnome is solid gold, or just gold plate on something else. It feels heavy enough, but perhaps the gold is covering another metal. He looks out of the window and sees that Sadie is talking to the neighbour over the fence.
Howard finds a large bucket and takes it over to the rhubarb; it is too small for the gnome to fit inside entirely, so he goes into the garage and empties out one of his storage bins and brings that over to the rhubarb. When lying on its side the gnome fits inside this bin, so Howard drags the garden hose over and fills the storage bin with water, up to the brim.
“Whatever are you doing now, Howard? Are you washing that gnome?”
Howard nearly drops the hose in surprise, but he points it at the rhubarb and sprays the plant all over.
“I’m just watering the rhubarb, and that damn thing fell into my box of stuff.”
“You don’t have to keep the gnome there, you know; if you like it we can move it somewhere else.”
“No, I like it; I mean it’s fine here,” says Howard, turning off the hose and moving around to the other side of the rhubarb bed, while he keeps a close eye on the gnome in case the water has washed off the paint.
Once Sadie moves away Howard tops up the water in the tub, then takes the gnome out of the container and sets it back in the earth. Howard marks the water level on the side of the bin with a piece of tape, then he scoops out the water, one cup at a time and dribbles it onto the rhubarb.
“I say, Howard, that’s an odd way to water plants – new technique is it?”
Howard looks up to see Mrs. Fitch from next door staring at him. Sadie is nowhere in sight, probably she has had enough of chatting.
“Er, yes, I’m making sure they each get the same quantity of water. It’s part of an experiment, and now I need to go and record my data in the garden manual.”
Howard gathers up the bin and the hose, nods to Mrs. Fitch and hurries back inside, wondering if she will tell Sadie about Howard’s garden manual. This whole thing is becoming too much; perhaps he should have thrown the gnome out after all. He puts the bin back in the garage and relights his cigar, inhaling deeply until clouds of smoke swirl around his head and he feels himself relaxing.
All afternoon Howard walks back and forth, inspecting the gnome, moving it into and out of view, measuring it, feeling it, and in between, dashing back to the computer to read up about gold. After a while he becomes fairly certain that the gnome is solid gold, and a feeling of worry starts to grow inside him.
“Whatever has got into you, Howard?” Sadie asks as they sit down to dinner. “I’ve never seen you so interested in your vegetables. Are you entering a competition or something?”
“Yeah,” mumbles Howard, “it’s a new project.”
“You don’t have to keep the gnome there just for me; I know you don’t like them, and it is your patch of garden.”
“No, no, really, it’s fine. He’s going to be my scarecrow.”
Sadie looks at Howard as if he has become unhinged and Howard quickly changes the subject, asking about her sister’s health, a topic that is guaranteed to last the rest of the meal.
After supper, Howard takes a stroll around the garden, enjoying his final smoke, and making sure that the gnome is still in place, although he is not sure what he would do it if were gone. He checks on it again from the window before going to bed and wonders whether he should tell anybody about the golden gnome. Perhaps he should report it to the police, but then, there is no proof it is stolen property.
In the morning, after collecting the newspaper from the front porch, Howard checks that the gnome is still lodged under the rhubarb then opens the paper to the Classifieds section. He has no idea what he expects to find, but in movies secret messages are always sent this way so he reads through several pages of ‘help wanted’, ‘for sale’ and ‘companion sought’ notices before he gives up and sits, staring into space, munching on his cold toast.
Howard jumps, knocking over his teacup.
“What is it, dear?” he asks, noticing that Sadie is frowning at him.
“I said, are you quite well? You’re behaving very strangely today. Perhaps you had too much sun yesterday, with all the work you did on your rhubarb?”
Sadie sniffs, as if she does not think the rhubarb merited such attention and Howard opens out the paper to the financial section and gives it a loud thwack to straighten it, and to indicate that he is busy contemplating important matters. He looks at the paper and really tries to concentrate but it is no good; all he can think of is that gnome and how it came to be in his garden. Finally, he decides to go and speak to the local police: they will know what he should do.
“I’m going out,” Howard says, putting on his hat and striding down the front path.
All the way to the police station he rehearses what he is going to say. ‘I have a golden gnome,’ sounds like a line from a movie; ‘somebody left some gold in my vegetables,’ sounds rude, and ‘my garden gnome is valuable,’ sounds ridiculous, so by the time he reaches the station he has no idea what he will say.
Howard need not have worried as the constable on duty is out and the receptionist gives him a form to fill out to record his complaint.
“In triplicate,” she says, paying no more attention to Howard.
Howard considers the form. He has not been burgled, assaulted, murdered, hit from behind or had his human rights violated so he ticks the box marked ‘other’ and writes, ‘I have a garden gnome which may belong to somebody else,’ signs his name and gives the form back to the receptionist who nods and adds it to a pile of papers in front of her.
As he walks home Howard worries that he should not have left Sadie alone with the gnome. What if the real owners show up and she does not know what they want? What if somebody else knows about the gold and steals it? He wishes he could smoke but he does not have his cigars with him. Instead he quickens his pace until he is almost running and nearly knocks into Mrs. Fitch coming out of her driveway.
“I’m back!” he calls into the house, “is everything alright?”
Without waiting for a reply Howard runs into the garden and over to the rhubarb patch where a depression in the soil marks the spot where the gnome had been. He looks all around the rhubarb but cannot see the gnome; there are not even any footprints in the soil.
“Sadie! Where are you?” Howard bellows and runs into the house, but he cannot find her anywhere, not even in the bathroom where she usually spends her mornings.
Howard can see the conspiracy now. The gnome was planted as bait and now Sadie has been kidnapped. He grabs the phone and dials the emergency number.
“Hello, Police? I was just down there with you reporting a gnome but now it’s gone and so’s my wife. Yes, I did fill out the form, in triplicate. I think they took her because the gnome is solid gold, but she doesn’t know that.”
As Howard speaks he looks wildly around, trying to see if anything else is gone, but he is too flustered to think. What if they demand a ransom for Sadie? What will he do?
Howard puts the phone down, hoping the police will come soon, and goes into the garage to find his cigar. He really needs a smoke after that shock; not only losing the gnome, but Sadie too. He puts the cigar in his mouth but does not light it, thinking instead of the little gnome’s shiny boot and the way the paint peeled off it.
Howard does not know how long he has been in the garage when he hears Sadie calling for him.
“Howard? Come in here and take your medicines. I returned that gnome to the Martins; their lad admitted to leaving it here for a prank. And the police said you were down there bothering them again. Don’t you know I always pop out in the mornings?”
Howard sighs. He remembers all the plans he had for spending the gold. Now he’ll have to come up with a new plan to escape from Sadie and the gnomes.


A Morning Surprise

When I discovered the leg I knew I was in for a very bad day. It was trapped under the bulkhead at the swimming pool, and if I had not told anybody it would probably still be there, but I was in a hurry to get to my weekly coffee morning, so I opened my big mouth.
The day had already started out badly when I got up late and missed my normal swim time at the pool and instead found myself stuck behind some slowpokes while being deafened by loud music for the old ladies in their exercise class who wiggled their hips and waved their dumbbells like palm trees swaying in the wind. Half of them don’t even move; I think they just come here for the gossiping. You would think they could gossip in a coffee shop, like normal people, instead of spending hours taking long showers in the pool changing room.
By the time I had finished my thirty laps the pool was becoming quite crowded, so rather than fight my way past the waddling ladies to get to the steps I ducked under the dividing section between the lanes and the deep end. You are not supposed to go under this – it says “no swimming” and “lifeguards only” in big letters on the side, but if they only provide one ladder to get out of the pool what do they expect? It’s not as if I were swimming, anyway, I just dived under and surfaced on the other side, right in the middle of a group of youngsters having a lesson, but in that brief moment I caught sight of something above me, trapped under the bulkhead.
I should have just ignored it and gone on my way but it was such an unusual sight that I repositioned my goggles and ducked under again to have another look. It was a complete human leg, severed at the top of the thigh.
As I surfaced, a lifeguard caught sight of me and came walking along the bridge towards me.
“There’s no swimming under the bulkhead.”
“I’m just trying to get out,” I said in my most polite voice, “but did you know there’s a leg stuck underneath there?”
“Yes, that’s right, you could get your leg stuck, so please stay away,” she said.
I suppose that’s what had happened to a careless swimmer, but you would think the pool staff would clear away the leg – it must be very unhygienic.
Two of the youngsters nearby were watching me and as soon as the lifeguard turned her back they dived down under the bulkhead. A moment later they resurfaced, shouting and waving their arms, gulping great mouthfuls of pool water.
“A leg! Help! There’s a leg under here!”
Lifeguards are trained to react to words like ‘help’ so in an instant the young lady jumped into the pool with her red, floaty people-saver and began hauling the kids out of the water while they continued to thrash and shout.
“It’s all red and gross!”
“It’s a leg, a real leg; somebody’s stuck under there!”
Well that wasn’t true; there’s no way you could get a whole person under the bridge, but some of the other pool staff jumped in to have a look and the person on the top of the lifeguard chair began to blow on a whistle and make semaphore signals to the office. Of course everybody stopped swimming and waddling and gossiping and looked over to the section of pool near me, so I swam over to the ladder and climbed out, thinking that I had better get to the showers before everybody made a rush for them.
“Excuse me, but you need to remain on the pool deck until we establish what the danger is,” said a youth with a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘staff’ and a tattoo of a snake on his arm.
“Oh, there’s no danger,” I replied, “the leg’s not attached to anything, and it’s not mine. But I do have an appointment to get to so I need to get dressed.”
I tried to get past him but he stretched out his arm with the snake and guided me over to a corner of the pool where the young children were being gathered and inspected, to make sure they each had two legs, I suppose. Since I plainly did have two legs I did not see why I should have to wait and I said so out loud, only to be scolded by the swimming instructor.
By now the exercising ladies were being helped out of the pool, but it was slow going with only the one staircase and most of them not understanding what was going on.
“Why is the class ending early?” asked one, “we haven’t even done the stretches yet.”
“They found a leg in the pool,” said another.
“It must be Mabel; she always used to ask for a leg up out of the pool.”
“No, it’s a leg on its own, not attached to a body.”
“What’s that? Who’s not attached to anybody? I can’t hear without my hearing aid. I have to take it out for swimming, and now I’m as deaf as a post.”
“They found a human leg in the pool!”
“Ooh, did they really?”
As the news spread the ladies became more agitated, some of them falling back into the pool from the steps, which upset the lifeguards who were trying to clear the water, others arguing over the pile of flip flops by the edge of the pool.
“Attention please,” boomed a voice over the p.a. system, distorted by the echoes in the large pool hall. “Due to an unforeseen incident we ask that everybody leave the pool area and retrieve their belongings.”
Unforeseen incident. Well of course it was. Nobody plans to leave their leg behind in the pool. I tried to sidle around the tattooed youth; I would be last in line for the showers now, I could see, but at least I could get my clothes and go on to my coffee meeting, but three firefighters strode down the pool deck towards us, looking very overdressed in their flameproof outfits. I hoped they were not going to spray water everywhere.
“Are these the witnesses?” one of them asked the tattooed youth. “I’m sorry, but the police will need to question them.”
“What about the kids? They’re freezing,” said the instructor pointing to the youngsters who were standing, knock kneed, teeth chattering, peering into the pool with rapt attention, no doubt hoping for a parade of other body parts.
“We’ll be as quick as we can,” said the firefighter and turned to talk to the kids, while the pool management staff gathered around.
Well, great, so here I was, the only person not allowed to leave the pool, and on the one morning I needed to get going. The only good part of the delay was that it allowed the police to arrive so that I would not have to answer questions twice. Two of them rushed down the pool deck, totally ignoring the signs about not wearing street shoes, and zeroed in on me like homing mosquitos.
“So, can you tell me how you found the leg?” asked one policeman, taking out a notebook.
“Well, I swam under the bulkhead,” I said, “and when I looked up, there was the leg above me, trapped against the underside.”
“You didn’t see anybody leave it there?”
This was getting ridiculous. Did he seriously think that somebody would leave their leg behind in the pool and just climb out, one legged, and hop off to the changing room?
I shook my head, trying to look serious.
“What were you doing under the bulkhead?” asked the second cop, who had just joined our small group. “It says here, clearly, ‘no swimming.’”
He turned and looked at the pool manager, who nodded in agreement, as if the very fact of a ‘no swimming’ notice should have prevented the leg from getting stuck under the bulkhead.
“I wanted to get out of the pool, as I have an important appointment to get to, and it is very hard to get out of the pool without a ladder.”
I glared at the manager, so that he would get the message about the lack of ladders, then I looked up at the clock in the hope that they would get the idea that I was in a hurry, and so I nearly missed what they said next.
“…contravening the rules of the facility; possible suspension of membership.”
What? Were they serious? After I did them a favour by reporting the leg?
After much talking back and forth between the cops, the management and the firefighter, who was now holding the leg as if it were a fire hose, they allowed me to return to the changing room to get dressed, and wouldn’t you know it but the showers were all taken by those gossiping women who couldn’t get enough of the leg.
“A man’s leg, all hairy it was.”
“I heard it was a woman’s.”
“Blood dripping from the end – it’s disgusting, us being in the same water. It will affect my allergies, it will.”
I gave up on my shower and dressed as quickly as possible. I was already an hour late but luckily I was able to sneak out of the building without being called aside for more questioning.
I jumped into my car and raced to my destination, fixing my hair as I drove. I worried that everyone would have given up waiting for me, but I was pleased to see they were all still seated at the table.
“A double frosted mocha frappucino with extra cream,” I said to the server, then I turned to my Thursday coffee morning friends and said, “you will never guess what happened at the pool this morning!”

Hidden Secrets

Everyone was staring at me as my wife handed me the painting she had pulled off the wall then removed the carved wooden cylinder that was taped to the back of the canvas and hid it in her pocket, while the guard waved his arms and babbled into his radio.
“Quick, we must get out of here before they stop us!” she said, heading towards the exit, and she elbowed her way past gaping tourists and the gesticulating guard, intent on reaching the street and the next stage of the search.
I spared a glance at the museum staff, who were already re-hanging the painting, and the guard, still talking into his radio, wondering how many times a week they had to endure these crazy re-enactions then followed my wife down the back stairs of the Louvre and out onto the streets of Paris where the rain splashed onto glistening cobblestones and the traffic sped by, horns honking, oblivious to our plight.
“We must travel to the east,” Marlene said, consulting her booklet. “That’s where we can find somebody to decipher this puzzle. And we only have six hours before they’ll be onto us.”
I looked back at the famous museum, half expecting to see commandos rushing out of the glass pyramid to take us captive but instead I saw a park cleaner sweeping up the debris from the morning’s visitors and I felt a tinge of regret: my first time in the Louvre and I had not even had a chance to see the Mona Lisa. As I watched the even strokes of the broom the man turned and stared straight at me.
I panicked, even though I knew he was probably just a park cleaner, but all the same I had no desire to be captured by the other side so I hailed a cab and, without looking back, I pushed my wife inside and slammed the door.
“Versailles,” I said, giving the name of the first place that came into my mind.
“No, not Versailles,” squawked my wife, thrusting a map under the driver’s nose. “Here! Ici! We want to go here, I mean, ici!”
The taxi sped off into the traffic and I sank back onto the seat, wondering how I had ever agreed to this nonsense.
It had all started a year ago when my wife suggested we should go on a tour of the Scottish highlands. Imagining that we would be striding across moors stalking grouse and dining on haggis in famous castles, I readily agreed, only to discover that my wife had other plans: retracing the footsteps of the hero in one of her romance novels. To my amazement, the publishing company, who obviously could spot a money-making stunt, had created a tour that took fans to all the places mentioned in this book and for the two weeks of our journey I had to endure a gaggle of ladies, my wife included, clucking over the site of the wedding chapel where they were married, the inn where they fought off the redcoats, the cave where they were held prisoner and other unremarkable locations, with not a grouse, haggis or castle in sight. To make matters worse, the tour guide, dressed in a kilt, had played the role of one of the characters, causing the ladies to swoon and blush and behave like heart-struck teenagers all through the trip.
“We are not going to Scotland again,” I declared upon our return to the safety of our house and the sanctity of my study, “next year we’ll go to Paris or Rome.”
While I went back to my business my wife undertook her own research. She was so pleased with the results of the romantic rendezvous that she wondered what other books had spawned tours of the locations the characters had visited and she found a company that specialises in re-enactments of fiction. Not only can you visit the location where the hero walked, you can experience the story for yourself, solving clues along the way, emerging victorious at the end, no doubt with a pre-printed merit certificate signed by the author and a 50% off voucher for a repeat experience.
Romance books are not normally filled with action, at least, not the sort that you can recreate in public, but spy novels and thrillers are perfect fodder for re-enactment scenarios and since the idea was first floated a host of companies had sprung up to provide the thrill of the chase, as it were, with safety clauses built into the contract. I was glad that my wife did not like to read Stephen King novels, but she was a keen fan of Dan Brown, which is why after breakfast this morning we had found ourselves outside the Louvre, eagerly anticipating solving the mysteries of the Da Vinci code.
Well, when I say eagerly, I mean Marlene, of course; I would much rather have spent the morning in the Impressionists gallery, but it was her dream vacation, so I agreed to tag along.
It was not going to be exactly like the book, otherwise the punters could just read up on the precise locations and solutions to the mysteries and there would be no fun in the experience – if you could call racing around Paris fun. Instead, the tour company had devised a series of puzzles that were loosely based on the book but changed with each tour so that you could not give away the clues to the next unsuspecting victims.
I wondered if the tour companies wrote their own scripts or employed a team of mystery writers to do it for them. Perhaps there was a job opportunity there; I could write clues sending the participants to my brother’s hotel.
“Who comes up with these questions?” I asked once the taxi had stopped swerving round corners like a Formula-1 racer, and I had an opportunity to examine the carved cylinder, a small wooden tube which was covered in symbols like a scientific journal.
“The Illuminati of course,” said my besotted wife, grabbing the cylinder from me, “and Dan Brown is helping us to expose them.”
I rolled my eyes and wondered if there would be any decent beer in Versailles, or wherever we were going, or perhaps a small drinking establishment that I could park myself in while my wife indulged her fantasy but suddenly the side window shattered and something whistled past my head and embedded itself in the side of the car.
“They found us!” said the driver, swearing under his breath and accelerating hard.
“Who? What?” I stammered, bending down so that my shoulders touched my knees.
“They’re after this,” said my wife, tucking the cylinder into her ample bosom and sliding down the seat.
“Can you lose them?” she asked the taxi driver.
“Oui, oui, madame!” said the driver, nodding his head enthusiastically and taking a sharp left turn.
I wondered if he was part of the re-enactment or whether he just happened to be there at the right time, but surely they could not just shoot at any random taxi; it would have to be all pre-arranged, and given the forms we had signed, and the liability we had waived, not to mention the insurance we had been obliged to take out, this was probably all planned.
There were no more shots but I was not taking any chances with my head so I stayed crouched on the floor, wondering how they had found us. As I wriggled around, trying to avoid the pieces of broken window glass I felt something hard in my back pocket and pulled it out. We had each been issued photo ID passes which had got us into the Louvre in advance of the crowds of tourists but as I examined the barcode and felt the weight of the plastic I realised that the ID must also be a tracking device.
I was tempted to throw the thing out of the window and tell Marlene we would finish this tour on our own, but then I realised we would have a lot of explaining to do to the local police, and we would have no protection, if you can call a flimsy piece of plastic protection, should the re-enactment villains persist in pursuing us.
The taxi came to a stop, engine idling, no doubt for a quick getaway, and the driver reached behind him and opened the door.
“Notre Dame!” he said, pointing at the famous church, whose spires towered above us.
It was either the right place or Marlene was desperate to get out of the taxi because she practically fell onto the pavement and pulled me out after her, then the taxi sped off without waiting for payment. That was one part of this adventure that I did like.
“Now what?” I asked.
“We go inside the church,” she said, consulting her booklet, “and find the Keeper of the Key.”
“Oh,” I said, none the wiser, thinking for the hundredth time that I really should have read the novel before I came along on this caper. “And how do we recognise him?”
But Marlene had already turned and was striding towards the church door, ignoring the line of tourists waiting to climb the tower hoping for a glimpse of the ghost of Quasimodo. I gave them an apologetic shrug and hurried after her.
In the cool interior of the church I took a moment to adjust my eyes to the gloom that was pierced by coloured motes of light from the stained glass windows high above. My footsteps echoed a measured beat on the stone floor, contrasting with the clicking of my wife’s heels as she hurried away from me down the centre of the church. As she passed one of the side chapels a man wearing a long red robe stepped out from the shadows and beckoned to her. She moved towards him and after a moment she pulled the cylinder out from her blouse and passed it to him.
I had to dodge around a large group of tourists, each listening to the history of the church on individual hand held speakers, and when I caught up with Marlene the man in the robe was examining the cylinder as if it were an aged bottle of wine.
“I thought we were supposed to keep that,” I said, “and don’t we need a key?”
“It’s okay,” said Marlene, “this is Monsignor Philippe. He’s going to help us decipher the code.”
Just then a flash of light blinded my eyes as one of the tourists snapped a photograph of the carved pillar behind me. I stepped backward, blinking, and trod on the foot of an elderly lady who grimaced and bent over, massaging her toes.
“Sorry, er pardon, Madame,” I said, while a stream of visitors pushed past me.
A man took the limping lady’s arm and escorted her away, while she scowled and shook her fist at me and the tourists moved on to the next statue, clutching their portable audio guides. I looked around for Marlene and saw she was turning back and forth, searching for something.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“He’s gone!” she said, “Monsignor took the cypher and vanished!”
“Isn’t he supposed to do that?” I asked, beginning to feel a bit worried.
“No! He was supposed to help us solve the puzzle and lead us to the next clue.”
I looked around the vast cavern of the church but there were no men in robes, no lost keys or ciphers and no likely looking bestselling authors lurking nearby.
“Maybe he’s double crossed us,” I suggested. “Don’t the books usually have a good guy who turns out to be a bad guy?”
“But that’s not until day three,” Marlene wailed, “It says so in the booklet. Here; I’ll show you.”
She reached into her bag for the re-enactment booklet, the set of instructions for the game which also contained the emergency number to call if something went wrong and the details of how to quit if you were not satisfied. It was not there.
“I had it a minute ago,” she cried, “I was consulting the diagram of the church layout. It was right next to my ID card.”
With a gasp Marlene looked up. “My ID card’s gone too!”
“What do you mean gone?” I asked, putting my hand into my pocket, but even as I spoke I knew what had happened.
We had been robbed. Ether by the re-enactment company or by common Parisian pickpockets, but either way we were lost in a strange city with no identification, no money, no phone and no belongings.
“What shall we do?” Marlene sobbed as I stood looking at the flecks of dust floating in the shafts of coloured light that angled towards the floor from the lofty windows.
“Do? We’re in Paris; we’re going to stroll arm in arm along the Seine and later we’ll sit at a small café and have a delicious meal.”
“But, what about our plans, and the re-enactment and our money and everything?”
“Oh, I’m sure we can change our plans,” I said, putting my arm around my wife, “I can get my brother to wire some funds and as for re-enactment, we could try re-enacting our engagement, and then we could go and really tour the Louvre.”
As we walked out of the church, holding hands for the first time in many years, I caught sight of the woman whose foot I had stood on and she smiled at me, slightly inclining her head. I winked at her, then steered my wife towards the riverbank and our real holiday.

It Wasn’t Really Stealing

It wasn’t really stealing, Daniel thought to himself for the hundredth time, as he joined the two wires together and heard the engine come to life; just borrowing. He had done this every night for the last month and he still got a thrill out of driving away behind the wheel of a brand new car.
“Where are we going?” asked his younger brother Tyler, eyes wide with excitement.
“To the other side of the city. You always take the car far away from its own lot, but be sure you remember where it came from.”
Tyler nodded and ran his hand along the sleek hood. This was a flashier model than the ones Daniel normally borrowed, but he had wanted to show off on his brother’s first night.
The boys got inside the car, wrinkling their noses at the smell of polish, and Daniel drove slowly out of the lot, stopping the car on the street to replace the chain across the exit before joining the stream of traffic that pulsed through the city like an artery. He was careful to match the speed of the other cars and used signals for every turn, melding into the flow, until he pulled into the far end of the parking lot outside one of the larger casinos.
“Now, we wait,” Daniel said, studying the gamblers who were coming out of the main doors.
He watched men walk briskly to their cars, couples hail taxis and slide into the back seats of the cramped cabs, and valets hold open the doors of limousines for smart, young people who appeared to tip well. After half an hour or so a man stumbled out of the casino, looked at his watch and began walking out towards them.
“Here’s the first customer; I know this guy,” said Daniel and eased the car forward until it came alongside the man.
“Would you like a ride, sir?” Daniel asked in a cheerful voice, “only fifteen dollars to anywhere in the city.”
The man swayed and peered in at the two boys.
“Ah, Miguel, it’s you!”
Daniel silenced his brother’s confused look with a quick frown and a shake of his head while he leaned over the back seat to open the rear door.
“That’s right, sir, and this is Paco, my assistant.”
Tyler smiled and nodded mutely while the man fell into the back seat and yanked the door shut.
“Nice car, Miguel, did you get a raise?” he slurred.
“No sir, it’s my turn to take this car tonight; tomorrow I’m back to the older model.”
“Well, so long as it gets me home that’s what counts. Westmore Villas – you know the place.”
The man slumped back into the plush upholstery and closed his eyes, while Tyler made faces and gesticulated to Daniel who had already pulled onto the main road heading east.
They drove in silence apart from the wheezing of the man in the back which sent wafts of alcohol tinged breath around the car. Tyler opened his window and Daniel closed it again, motioning to his brother to sit still. Twenty minutes later they pulled up in front of a red brick apartment building and Daniel turned to the man.
“Sir, wake up, sir; we’re here.”
The man sat up, rubbing his eyes, and stared out of the window. After a moment he grunted, pulled a twenty out of his wallet and handed it to Daniel.
“Thanks, Miguel, see ya next time.”
Daniel reached behind him and opened the door. The man peeled himself out of the car and stood in front of the apartment, fumbling in his pocket. Daniel gave a wave then drove away taking a different route to the one they had come by.
“See, it’s simple, like I told you,” he said, “just never give your real name and always ask for fifteen dollars. Most people don’t have change so they’ll give you a twenty and let you keep the rest. And go for the ones who are a bit drunk and walking slowly.”
Daniel picked up two more passengers before turning the car over to Tyler and borrowing another one from a different lot. He wondered if he should have given Tyler the minivan and kept the luxury car for himself but he could have that car any time he wanted, and after all, this was Tyler’s first night on the job.
All night Daniel ferried people around the city; mostly short rides making twenty dollars each time but he was lucky enough to get fifty dollars from a man who wanted a fast ride to the train station. Once Tyler had learned the ropes he would have to get his friends in on the scheme; it was so simple. Those dealers had no idea what a goldmine they left sitting out each night.
Just before the dawn began to tickle the tops of the buildings the brothers met in the parking lot behind the main movie theatre.
“Well?” asked Daniel.
“Wow!” said Tyler, holding up a fistful of notes, “we’re rich!”
Daniel laughed and told his brother to follow him back to the first lot. He wanted to return the fancy car before the first shift of salesmen arrived, and two boys driving a minivan would attract less attention.
As he approached the first lot he saw they were too late; a couple of dealers and a cop wearing a bright yellow jacket stood by the empty spot where the car had sat. He slowly drove past the lot, waving his hand to Tyler, hoping that his brother would see the signal and know to follow him but Tyler just waved back and drove the car into the lot.
Cursing his luck, Daniel looped around the block and parked his minivan at a gas station, then sauntered past the dealer’s lot, trying to spot Tyler without being noticed himself. He need not have bothered with the secrecy as a small crowd was forming on the sidewalk gaping at the cop who was holding a wriggling Tyler in a tight grip.
“You little thief!” shouted the dealer, shaking his fist at Tyler, “you’ve been stealing cars off this lot!”
“No, I never,” said Tyler, his teeth chattering, “I found it over by the mall with the engine running and I was just bringing it back. How can I be stealing it if I brought it back?”
Daniel had to admire his brother’s quick wit. He would probably get away with it as, after all, he had not actually stolen the car, and there was no way to tell who had taken it, but it meant that their careers as taxi drivers were over. He would have to find something else to borrow instead.