"Is that you,
dear?" Erta called from the kitchen as Jackson Robert gently closed the front door.
"Who were you expecting,
Cary Grant?" he returned.
Every night since they'd
been married Erta asked the same question as her husband walked through the door after
work, and every night he gave her the same answer. There was a time when this would
make Erta smile.
"How was your day at the
salt mines?" she asked, continuing the ceremony.
"Salty, just like your beef
stew," he answered, as he did every night.
Erta absently scratched her
forehead. The flour she'd been using to thicken the runny spaghetti sauce left a
white streak across her brow. It was easy to tell whenand what-Erta had
been cooking, as it was always painted across her face. There was never any reason to
ask what was for dinner as she was a walking, multi-colored menu board. There was a
time when Jackson Robert thought this was adorable.
ready," she said absently.
Jackson Robert sat down and
removed his shoes and socks, placing each sock in the appropriate shoe and lining up
the shoes under his chair. He slid the chair closer to the refrigerator, then placed
his feet on the refrigerator door and slowly walked them towards the top until they
were raised about six inches higher than his head. He let out a big sigh of relief.
Erta shook her head. She found it hard to believe but there was actually a time
when she thought this nightly ritual was uniquely charming.
Marriage is what's left after all
the cute endearing traits start to get on your nerves.
"Did you hear about the
robbery at J&A last night?" Erta asked.
"It was on the radio on the
way home," he replied while rubbing his temples. "Was there anything in the
paper about it?"
"I haven't had time to
look," she said, adding about a cup of ketchup to the spaghetti sauce. If Erta
lived to be two hundred years old she'd still never get the hang of cooking,
"Though there sure were enough police cars there when I went shopping
this morning. I can't believe we're having a crime wave like this. Not here."
Jackson Robert unfolded the
POLICE HUNG UP ON CLOTHING STORE ROBBERY City police are
searching for clues to last night's break-in at J&A Clothiers, the latest in a
string of bizarre robberies to sweep the area.
The intruder entered the premises sometime after closing,
stealing all the coat hangers in the store.
"All the clothes were left on the floor," remarked
Jennifer Jennings, co-owner of the store. "Nothing was taken. Well, not exactly
nothing. All the coat hangers were gone."
After a thorough check, Jennings discovered the coat hangers
were all that had been stolen.
"It's very possible the perpetrator was frightened
off before he or she found the money," said Milo Jenkins, the officer in charge
of the investigation. "We're looking into all possibilities."
The break-in bears a striking resemblance to the
recent theft of display materials at Cordin's Jewelry Store and grocery bags at
the Food House supermarket. In each case no money or merchandise was taken and there was
no sign of forcible entry.
"Nothing is being ruled out at this time," Jenkins
"It's going to be hard to sell anything today,"
manager Jennings said, "since practically all our merchandise needs to be
hung up. It's kind of hard to interest someone in a cocktail dress that's folded up
on a shelf."
Police have requested all area businesses to immediately report
attempts to sell large quantities of jewelry display materials, paper bags, or coat
* * * * * *
The sound of thundering feet
storming down the stairs preceded Jet's bursting into the room. He dove under the
kitchen table as Job rounded the corner hot on his heels. Job skidded on the tile
floor and slid under his father's upraised legs.
"You went under his
legs," Jet yelled, "that's bad luck."
"It's bad luck to go under a
ladder, you peckerhead," Job yelled back.
"Smelled Dad's feet lately? That's
bad luck," Jet said.
Job scrambled under the table to
get at Jet. Jackson Robert grabbed the back of his pants and held him at bay. He
strained against his father's grip, snapping at Jet like a half-starved pit bull
dying to lunch on a miniature poodle.
"He started it!" Job
"Well you stop
it," Jackson Robert said. "You're older than he is, you should set a good
"He does," Jet said
sincerely. "And I'm proud of him."
Job stopped struggling and looked
at his brother. A small smile crossed his face. Maybe Jet wasn't so bad after all.
"He's a good example of why
retroactive abortions should be legal," Jet said as he backed out from under the
table and stood up. Job lurched after him, but his father held him in place.
"Okay, both of you sit down.
Dinner's almost ready," Erta said. "Jet, check on the garlic bread. And
Job, I want you to watch your mouth."
"I can't watch my mouth
without a mirror," he said.
"And looking in a mirror is
too painful," Jet added.
"I'll show you
"That's enough," Erta
said. "Jet, the garlic bread?"
Jet opened the oven and pulled
out the aluminum foil package. He poked at the hot Italian bread which was already burned
around the edges, the butter sitting in greasy, unmelted lumps between the slices.
"Mom, the butter isn't
"Then put it back in the
"But the bread's almost
burnt to a crisp."
"Then don't put it
"But the butter's supposed
to be melted."
"Then put it back in."
"Just put it on the
table," Jackson Robert said emphatically.
"Are we supposed to eat it
like this?" Jet asked.
"No," Job said,
"we're supposed to eat it with our hands."
The telephone rang.
"I'll get it," Jet and
Job yelled as they both jumped towards the door.
"No, I'll get
it," Erta said as she blocked the doorway.
"But it's for me."
"No, it's for me."
"I said, I'll get
it," Erta announced with ultimate finality.
"Boy," Job said,
"A guy can't have any fun around here."
"The truth hurts, doesn't
it?" Jet asked with a shrug. Job feinted towards Jet. As Jet pulled back, Job
stomped hard on his foot, pinning it in place. Jet fell over backwards, his head
hitting the cabinet door under the sink.
"Yeah, it does hurt,"
Job said with a smirk, "but sometimes that's the fun of it."
"Jet, get up off the floor,
the phone's for you," Erta said as she came back into the kitchen.
"Who is it?" he asked,
rubbing the back of his head.
"It's that Boots boy."
"What does he want?"
"He wants to talk to your
brother," she told him.
"Yeah," Jet said,
"he wants to talk to your brother."
Job took a small leap towards
Jet, who jumped backwards and ran from the room.
* * * * * *
"I'm glad you're home,"
Rubber Boots said. "Did you hear the news?"
"It's really making sense
now," Rubber Boots said, running on.
"What is? English?"
"Nah, that'll never make
sense, this is about the robberies. Ever since you got that note it's been on my
"What mind?" Jet asked.
"I mean, what note?"
"You know, the note
Hellstrom gave you instead of the one I wrote." Jet didn't say anything.
"The one she was supposed to give to Johnny?"
"Oh Yeah, what about
"Okay, listen. That was the
day after the Food House robbery, right?" Rubber Boots paused but Jet didn't
say anything. "And the note said he was late because he was being questioned by
the police, right?"
"Sure, but it could have
been about anything."
"Yeah, right," Rubber
Boots said sarcastically. "Don't forget we saw he and the Turk out that night."
"Him and the Turk."
"Its him and the
Turk," Jet instructed.
"Him and the Turk. Whatever.
Anyway, that makes him a prime suspect. Besides, everyone knows Johnny's robbed a lot of
"How do you know?" Jet
"Everyone knows that.
Okay, now listen to this: J&A gets knocked off last night and what happens?
Johnny's late for class again. You know why?"
"Because they hauled him in
for questioning bright and early this morning. The morning after the latest
"So what are you gonna do
with your theory?" Jet asked. "Go to the police?"
"What good would that do?
They already know."
"Exactly. So what's the
"The point is, I know who
did it and I think that's pretty cool."
"Well done, Mr. Sherlock
Boots, but aren't you forgetting something?"
"What?" Rubber Boots
"Well, we saw him out the
night of the Food House robbery."
"Right," Jet said,
"but we were out too. Does that mean we did it?"
Rubber Boots paused thoughtfully.
"Do you think Johnny told the cops we ran into he and...I mean, him and the Turk
that night?" he asked nervously.
"What if he told them about
our smoking the cigarettes?"
"When did that become a
"But what if they tell our
"We might be suspects in a
robbery and you're worried about your parents finding out you smoked a lousy
"Do you really think we're
suspects?" Rubber Boots asked almost hopefully.
"Should we tell the cops
that we saw Johnny and the Turk that night?"
"On whether you want to live
long enough to lose your virginity," Jet said.
Rubber Boots silently thought
about this. "Well, if Johnny didn't do it, then who did?"
"How should I know?"
Jet asked. "Look, I gotta go eat. If you come up with any more brainstorms, hold
'em until tomorrow."
* * * * * *
"It's just not safe around
here anymore," Erta said as Jet walked back into the kitchen. She was ladling
pasty pink spaghetti sauce over dreadfully overcooked elbow macaroni. "We'd
better start locking the doors at night."
"They already are,"
Jackson Robert said.
"They are?" she asked
"Yes," he explained
while sprinkling large hard lumps of once-grated Parmesan cheese over his dinner,
"I've locked the doors before I go to bed every night since the day we were
Erta looked at him in
bewilderment. "I didn't know that."
"What's the big deal?"
Job asked. "They didn't steal anything worthwhile anyway."
"That's not the point,"
she said. "Crime is crime, and the Good Book says 'Thou shalt not steal'."
"Does it also say 'Thou
shalt not melt the butter'?" Jet asked.
"No," Jackson Robert
said, "but it does say to honor your mother and father."
"That's why we have Mother's
Day and Father's Day," Jet said to Job.
"Yeah, but what happened to
Kid's Day?" Job asked.
"I guess the Bible doesn't
care about us kids," Jet told him.
"Don't you think this is
terrible?" Erta asked.
"Yeah," Jet said,
"I think they should add 'Honor thy second born son' to the Ten
"Not that," she said.
"I'm talking about the crime wave."
"Do three robberies make a
crime wave?" Job asked as he mashed his macaroni and sauce into a pulp with his fork.
"No," Jet said.
"Three is a tide, four is a wave."
"Would someone pass the
garlic bread?" Jackson Robert asked.
"It makes me nervous to go
out at night," Erta said.
"But you don't go out at
night," Job said.
"I do," Jet announced.
"Not anymore you
don't," his mother announced.
"I asked for the garlic
bread," Jackson Robert said firmly. Job took three pieces and passed the basket
to his father.
"God, they're only stealing
coat hangers and paper bags, not kids," Jet objected.
"Maybe we'll get lucky and
they'll start with you," Job said to his brother, breaking the crunchy garlic
bread into little pieces and stirring them into his pureed pasta and sauce.
"Don't take the Lord's name
in vain," Erta said.
"I didn't," Job
"Not you, Jet."
"Jesus Mom, I'm sorry."
"No you're not," Job
Jet said, looking at Job's plate full of mashed dinner.
"Yes it is," Erta
added. "A person should be able to walk the streets at night without being
afraid for their life."
"Not that. That
," Jet said pointing at Job's plate. "How do you eat that crap?"
"With my mouth."
Jet looked at Erta. "And you
let him kiss you with that mouth?"
"If the police can't do
something to stop this, maybe we should," Erta said.
"Yeah," Jet said,
looking at Job.
"Yeah," Job said,
looking at Jackson Robert.
"This bread's not
done," Jackson Robert said to no one in particular. "The butter's not even
* * * * * *
That night the eleven o'clock
news ran a story about the break-in at J&A Clothiers, but no one in the Banker
household saw it. Erta, who was normally asleep by then anyway, was wide awake and
eagerly watching the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III exorcise a low-level
demon from a woman who lisped. This demon, he explained, had her tongue tightly
held in an evil death grip. Erta had never realized that people with speech
impediments were possessed, though it did explain why her cousin Norawho had
stuttered all her lifehad stopped going to church, preferring to spend her
Sunday mornings painting water colors of automobile junk yards.
Jackson Robert, who would have
been watching the news even though all the reportersincluding the weather
personwere male, knew better than to interrupt his wife when she was watching
the Quite Reverend. Besides, he was busy rearranging the pictures in the photo albums
alphabetically according to who was in them, rather than the chronological order they were
Jet was lying in bed awaiting
sleep, knowing that his obtuse dream world was slowly gliding towards him. His lit
flashlight stood on the night table, the beam illuminating a circle on the ceiling.
His small radio played hushed rock 'n roll. Each night Jet tried a new
variation on this theme, hoping the right mixture of light and sound would keep his
Job, who was also supposed to be
in bed asleep, was instead in his parents' room on the telephone playing a practical
joke. Where others would call a cab to the house next door just to see what happened when
the unordered cab showed up, Job decided it would be more fun to have the taxi come to his
house. Sometimes Job just didnt get it.
Had any of them seen the eleven
o'clock news they would have been impressed that the break-in at the J&A Clothiers was
covered. There it was at the very end of the broadcast, in the same sixty-second time
slot usually reserved for the dog who thinks he's a turkey and hides out for the two
weeks before Thanksgiving, the man who smoked three packs of Marlboros a day for
thirty-one years and built a model of the Golden Gate Bridge with the 33,945 crush-proof
cigarette boxes, and the three year-old boy who can't remember his home address yet
can consistently kick a field goal from twenty yards.
Film at 11:29
* * * * * *
The next morning's newspaper ran
an article about the break-in that began on the front page of the Area section and
continued on page six. The morning news that Jackson Robert was so fond of watching
devoted thirty-two seconds to the story, which was actually quite a bit considering it was
a nationally broadcast show that, though it aired for ninety minutes and
touted itself as a newscast, spent so much time on celebrity interviews, weather,
and cute banter that they only ran a total of eight minutes of actual news.
That afternoons newspaper
ran a story on the front page about how Gearson "Budrow" Buddings, the president
of the Retail Merchants Association, had posted a $500 reward for
"information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons
responsible for this string of robberies." Next to the article was a photograph
of Budrow standing in front of J&A Clothiers with his finger pointed straight at
the camera. Uncle Budrow wants you.
On the six o'clock newscast the
Chief of Police pleaded with the citizens to report any suspicious activity that
might relate to the crimes. A phone number was flashed on the TV screen, causing
a massive jam-up of the local telephone exchange while virtually everyone in town
called to say they thought their neighbors were acting suspiciously. Within ten
minutes no none within a thirty-mile radius could get a dial tone. Those few who did
manage to get through were happily greeted by a seventy-two year old widow who was so
lonely she was grateful to talk to anyone and took this opportunity to do so at great
length. The TV station, it turns out, had displayed the wrong phone number.
The following morning an article
appeared on the top half of the front page of the newspaper. A group of outraged citizens
were forming an ad hoc committee to look into what they called "the mishandling of
the investigation by the police." The photograph accompanying the story showed a
group of placid, ordinary looking citizens unangrily waving their clenched fists in
the air while smiling for the camera.
That evening it was reported that
the Mayor had formed a blue ribbon task force whose sole responsibility would be the
apprehension of the robber. "I can only ask that the citizens of this town allow
the law enforcement personnel to proceed with their investigation unimpeded," he
was quoted as saying. "We will in no way tolerate any form of vigilantism."
The next morning's newspaper ran
a small three paragraph story on page seven which effectively said nothing new had
developed. That afternoons newspaper pretended the robberies had never
The news media, it seems, have an
even shorter attention span than their readers.
All remained quiet until the
following week's issue of the Weekly World Scene hit the newsstands. Splashed
across the top of the front page was a banner headline set in ultra-bold 120 point
type, a style reserved by conventional newspapers for the assassination of a
President, which read:
Town cowers behind locked doors as
SATANIC CULT GOES ON ROBBING RAMPAGE!
[ Chapter 15 ]