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Mager's Shorts IIQuirky Stories for the Adventurous Reader
By Robert F. Mager
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Robert. F. Mager
All right reserved.
You know how strange things happen to most people at one time or another? Well, I'm no exception. So, though what I'm about to tell you may seem a little weird, I'll just tell it the way it went down and let you make of it what you will.
I was sitting on a park bench-the park is part of my beat-stewing about not making an arrest for a whole week. If this kept up I'd never get that promotion to First Grade.
But, it was a sunny day and I had time to kill, so I wandered over to the corner snack stand to buy something to nibble on. I never could pass up the smell of freshly-popped corn, and the luscious aroma coming from Tony's stand was killing me.
So, with a fresh bag in my hand and a smile of anticipation on my face, I sauntered back to the bench under the old oak tree.
I tell you, that was the best idea I'd had all week. I wasn't getting very far with the case I was working on, and a little siesta on a park bench would be just the ticket to relax my brain.
Leaning back, I fantasized about the big case that would blast me to cop stardom, opened my bag, and popped a handful of kernels into my mouth. Yum-yum.
Y'know, I honestly thought I heard someone say something, but when I looked around, therewasn't anyone there.
There it was again. A squeaky voice sounding like it said, "Hi." I swiveled my head again but there still wasn't anyone there. This was getting a little weird. Sure, there was this squirrel squatting on the other end of the bench, but-wait a minute-could it be ...?
I looked around to make sure nobody was close enough to hear, then said, "Did you say something?" I mean, I was feeling pretty foolish about then. If the guys down at the precinct caught me talking to a squirrel, they'd haul my ass off to the funny farm.
"Several times," the squirrel chirped. "You hard of hearing?"
"Are ... are you really talking?" I tell you, I was pretty freaked about talking to a squirrel, if that's what I was doing. I still wasn't sure.
"You see anybody else? How about pungling up a few of those nose-tingling kernels?"
He hopped over, sat on my knee, and stuck his nose into my popcorn. Just like that.
I sat there a little stunned at the pushy squirrel helping himself like he owned the whole bag. Not that I minded all that much, it's just that I was getting a little rattled at the absurdity of the situation.
"Good grub," the squirrel squeaked. "Have some."
Talk about nerve! Now he was offering me some of my own popcorn.
"Go ahead," he urged. "It's really good today."
So there we sat, both nibbling from the same bag as though it were an everyday event. I pinched myself in case I'd dozed off and this was one of those zany dreams I sometimes have. But it hurt when I squeezed, so I decided I was still awake.
"Needs more salt," the squirrel said. "Got any?"
"Of course not! How come you speak English?"
"How come you speak English?" the critter shot back.
That stopped me for a minute. I mean, talking to a squirrel was crazy enough, but getting into an argument with one made me wonder about my sanity.
"Now look here, squirrel, I-"
"Squinky. My name. We might as well be civilized about this."
"Or I'll call my family-they're up there in the branches-and they'll come down and turn this yummy popcorn into poopcorn."
That took the wind out of my sails. "What's poopcorn?"
"Zheesh. You know what poop is, don'cha?" He lifted his butt and waggled it at me as he spoke.
"Oh, okay, I get it. Sorry ... uh ... Squinky. I'm not used to talking with squirrels."
"Yeah, I can see that."
"So how come you talk?"
"I learned, same as you."
"You're putting me on. How?"
Now I knew I was losing it. A talking squirrel was hard enough to swallow, but one that reads, too?
"That's not possible," I said. "You'd have to be able to read to do that."
"So? My Dad, Squarky, teaches me. Reads to me every day."
"That's silly. There's no library around here, and I don't see any reading matter lying around."
"Oh, yeah? Take a closer look. There's gum wrappers, candy wrappers, soda cans, old newspapers over there in the trash can ... all kinds of stuff to read."
He had me there. As I struggled to think of a suitable riposte, I noticed a woman sauntering in our direction.
"That's pretty gross," she said, eyeing the two of us eating from the same bag. "I mean, I often eat along with my doggies, but never from the same bowl."
"Racist!" Squinky said.
"Now don't be rude," I shot back.
"Oh my," the woman said. "It squeaks. And you understand what it says?"
Quick as a flash, I deduced that though I could understand Squinky, she couldn't. "I just pretend that I do." No need complicating things by explaining the unexplainable. "It passes the time." Care to join us?
As she settled onto the bench, Squinky suddenly leaped onto my shoulder, kind of agitated like, and said, "Watch out. You know who she is? Her boyfriend is cooking crack over in that yellow house across the park. She's waiting for him to bring her some to sell."
I looked her over as she nervously strangled a hankie. She was about thirty, dark hair, and seemed attractive. I couldn't tell whether she had a nice face, because the scarf around her neck hid it pretty well.
"You live in that yellow house over there?"
She whipped her head around to look at me. "How did you know?"
Without thinking, I said, "The squirrel told me." Damn! She must think I'm loopy as a drunken cat. "I mean, it seems logical."
She jumped up, and started to pace. "I don't know what to do," she blurted. "My boyfriend is cooking crack in my kitchen and I can't make him stop. I'm afraid he's going to burn my house down and-"
"She's lying!" Squinky said. "He's cooking all right but, like I said, she's waiting for him to bring her a batch to peddle."
"How do you know that?" I shot back, again forgetting who I was talking to.
"Look across the street. See that guy going into the yellow house?"
"He shows up every day. Probably another of their distributors. Hurry up-do something before they get away."
"Wait a minute," I protested. "How come you know so much about it?"
"Hey, you think we just sit up in the tree all day throwing nuts and pooping on bench-sitters?"
I thought about that for a split second. "No, I suppose not."
"So get going!"
If the squirrel were wrong, I might be facing a false arrest charge and be the laughing stock of the precinct for years. But, what the hell! Squinky had an honest face. The woman had started to pace again, so I stood and slapped a handcuff on her wrist.
"What-what are you doing?" she demanded.
"You're under arrest," I told her. "Drug dealing, and maybe other things as well." I pushed her down and manacled her wrist to the iron bench. "If you keep squirming like that, I'll handcuff your other hand, too."
She squirmed anyway, so I cuffed her other wrist to the far end of the bench.
"Oh, this is just peachy," Squinky said, hopping onto her lap and scaring the bejeezus out of her.
"Squinky, think you could call your buddies down to keep an eye on her while I call this in?" By now I was feeling like part of the family.
The pushy animal hollered something in "Squirrel" and pretty soon half a dozen of the chattering critters surrounded the distraught woman.
"Don't move," I told her. "If you do, my little friends will attack and cover you with poopcorn." I dropped what was left of the bag into her lap. Since she was handcuffed with her arms spread there was no way she could get into the remnants. Besides, I thought it might do her good to have a lapful of hungry animals.
I punched numbers into my cell. When the desk sergeant came on the line, I told him, "I need a SWAT team to raid a crack house I'm watching. The perp's in there cooking as we speak."
"How do you know that?"
Well now, I couldn't just tell him a little squirrel told me, could I? "I got it from one of my snitches. Hurry up, before they blow up the place."
"Okay, but we may need your snitch to help us establish probable cause. Have him handy when the SWATs get there."
Crap. I couldn't show up with a squirrel on my shoulder, especially one that talks. "I'll do what I can," I waffled, and hung up.
When I stood and began to walk away, my collar got really agitated and shouted, "Hey, you can't leave me here with all these vicious animals."
I thought I heard some high-pitched tittering when she called the little fellas vicious. "Behave yourself and you'll be just fine. Besides, if your boyfriend is going to blow up the place you'll be better off in jail for a few days." I went over to meet the squad and tell 'em which house to hit. But the minute I turned my back, the little devils leaped on her lap and began fighting over the dregs of the popcorn.
She screamed, probably because a bunch of sharp squirrel claws were digging into her thighs as they fought for traction. When they finished what was left of the popcorn they started crawling all over her body looking for more. She screamed some more and struggled to get loose. She shut up, though, as soon as she saw the cop cars arriving with their lights flashing.
When I got back to the bench a few minutes later, she wasn't moving. It was easy to see why. The squirrels were arranged all around the bench and squeaked up a storm every time she crossed her legs or something. I un-cuffed her and marched her across the park while reciting her rights, and stuffed her into a squad car. I was mighty relieved when nobody asked to talk to my "snitch."
What I didn't realize at the time was that six nosy squirrels had followed us across the park, single file, to watch the action. I got some pretty funny looks from the SWAT guys, along with some snide remarks, like "Where'd you get the posse?" Things like that.
But "action" wasn't what the little buggers were interested in at all. When I finally caught on, I marched them over to Tony's stand and bought them each a bag of popcorn. It was the least I could do, seeing as how they solved a case I didn't even know I had, and would make me "Hero for a Day" down at the precinct.
Turned out even better than that. My own furry little posse made me a deal-felons for popcorn. That's worked out so well I've made ten major arrests in only two weeks. At that rate, I'll probably make Detective First Class before long. Not only that, I'm learning to speak "Squirrel." All for a few bucks of popcorn each day. Oh, yes, and NO poopcorn!
Another Point of View
Pointing a gnarled finger toward the silver-haired man coming out of the dilapidated store, the old woman tightened the tattered shawl around her shoulders and nudged the man standing in line behind her.
"See that old man? When he went in there, he was all bent over and walked with a cane. Now look at 'im. Straight as a rod and frisky as a puppy dog's tail."
The man straightened his black-and-red silk tie and flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his dark, pin-striped suit. "May I ask why you're here?"
The frail woman looked up and lifted her splinted left arm. "It's me arm. Broke it fallin' down the cellar stairs, I did. I'm here to get it made good as new." She paused, then asked, "You ain't never been here before?"
"No. This is my first time. I'm curious to know what this is all about."
"What it's about is the doc in there can fix whatever ails you. Free, too. No charge. Course, a donation is always welcome. I s'pose he has to pay the rent an' all."
They shuffled forward with the slowly moving line. "It wasn't always like this," the woman said. "Used to be just a few folks sittin' in the waitin' room. Never had to wait more'n half an hour. I guess now word's got 'round, the whole world is waitin' to git in."
The dapper man, now almost at the waiting-room door, turned to glance at those in line behind him. "What's he like?"
"'Bout average height, I'd say, with a kind and gentle face. Warm smile. Great bedside manner, too. But he's kinda funny, y'know."
He waited for her to continue.
"You can't tell how old he is. One minute he looks pretty old, and then he looks younger. Mebbe it's the way the light plays on his face, or somethin'."
"Interesting. I'd better watch closely."
"But y'know, when he looks at you, he really looks. Like he's borin' right into your soul. Know what I mean?"
"I think so."
Just as the man followed the woman across the threshold into the waiting room, two men in dark suits shoved their way past him and marched directly into the back room where the doctor dispensed his treatments.
"Get in line!"
"What you t'ink you doing?"
"Wait your turn."
The howls from the outraged petitioners bounced off the offenders like ping-pong balls from a hot stove. Closing the door behind them, the rude intruders confronted a gray-haired man in a rumpled gray sweater who seemed to be holding a bleeding gash on the arm of a scruffy-haired boy.
"Are you the doctor?" The voice was gruff.
"No," the man replied, continuing his ministrations without looking up.
"Well, what do you call what you're doing?"
"I'm healing this cut."
"And you say you're not a doctor?"
"Sure. You're just masquerading as a doctor. You're under arrest. You'll have to come with us."
"Just as soon as I finish what I'm doing." He continued ministering to the cut. "Ah ... would you mind explaining to the people waiting outside why they won't get any more healing today?"
The interlopers recognized the trap. "Never mind that. Just come with us. Now!" They handcuffed the healer and led him through the waiting room to a car idling at the door.
"They're arresting me for healing people," he called to the waiting throng.
The resulting bedlam rattled windows a block away. The waiting crowd surged toward the black car, rocking it to the verge of capsizing as it slinked away.
The man in the red-and-black striped tie entered the anteroom of the District Attorney's office, announcing himself to the secretary polishing her nails. She nodded him toward the inner office. Entering without a word, he placed a thin folder on the desk of Thomas "Slam Dunk" Slovny, Assistant District Attorney.
The ADA picked up the folder and glanced through the skimpy contents. "Not much here. How come?"
"Just as it was my turn to go in for treatment, your two goons shoved their way in and hauled him away. I stayed behind to look at his clinic but, except for a little furniture, it was pretty much an empty room."
"No medical equipment and things?"
"Not even a stethoscope."
"I talked to the woman in line in front of me. She said he could heal anything. It could be at least partly true, I suppose. The people coming out seemed pretty healthy and in high spirits."
"Well, we'll see about that."
The courtroom was packed with squirming, grumbling spectators, causing ADA Slovny to beam in anticipation. He scanned the seething crowd, savoring the thought of the delicious victory waiting just minutes away. I'll show those snivelers how the law works around here. A dose of hard-assed justice is just what this case needs. An election was coming up, and Mr. Slovny had his eye on the District Attorney's chair. This is going to be a lead-pipe cinch. Imagine the defendant insisting on defending himself.
"I won't need an attorney," the healer had told the judge during arraignment. "The facts will speak for themselves."
The veiled contempt oozing from that statement riled Mr. Slovny. I'll slice that idiot into ribbons of raw flesh. Especially galling was the defendant's refusal to give his name and home address to the booking officer. "Joe Healer," he insisted on calling himself when pressed.
We'll see about that, too, Slovny thought, drumming his fingers on the table.
Excerpted from Mager's Shorts II by Robert F. Mager Copyright © 2009 by Robert. F. Mager. Excerpted by permission.
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