Authors: Heather Smith Meloche
I stare at the black cutout of a pecker and balls in my palm, then up at the yellow sign with the black silhouette of the running deer that reads “Next Mile.” I let loose another laugh. Doctoring signs to make deer hang better than porno stars is one of the easiest pranks I've pulled, but it's a good one.
When I showed up at the pizza place where I knew Sam and Carver would be, they were hitting on girls while downing slices of pepperoni and double onion, despite looking to get laid. Sam, a little lit up from whatever alcohol he'd gotten his hands on, said, “Jack, dude. I'm so glad you're here. Let's do something crazy.”
“You know your mom's the mayor, right?” I said, stealing a piece of pizza.
“You know, dude,” Sam says with a slight slur, “my mom wants me to be too damn perfect. I keep telling her I won't be a senator someday. But she's not getting it. So let's go fuck something up.”
I figured I should spare Sam jail time, keep his future as a senator intact, so I chose something tame but hilarious for us to tackle tonight. Besides, the black adhesive shelf liners had been on clearance at Hallend Hardware for forty-nine cents a roll. I bought six
of them before we moved, thinking we could use them to cover other people's disgustingness when we got into our new house in Pineville. But actually, whoever had lived there before us was pretty clean and had already papered the shelves with liners that were flower-patterned and neatly cut. So the black liners had been sitting in my Dart until tonight, when we turned them into twenty spectacular and explicitly accurate cutouts of male anatomy, laughing until we almost pissed ourselves.
Carver has dubbed this prank “The Deer Dick Project.” I've already proudly turned two deer in this town into mega-studs. Now Sam and I approach a third sign, a carefully crafted deer dick in my hands. With Carver on cop-watch duty across the street, I carefully line up the black of the deer's underside with the black of the male junk. And when I step back, voilÃ ! A stud is born.
“Behold.” Sam waves toward our handiwork. “Your masterpiece.” He gives me a respectful bow.
I laugh at his cheesy flattery just as Carver's piercing whistle sounds. He's motioning toward a car gliding toward us. In the dark, we can see the outline of police lights sitting on top of the sedan. The lights aren't on, but the car slows. This cop is clearly coming for us. It's game time.
I relax my shoulders, paste on the widest smile I have, and casually saunter out into the middle of the street to meet the car head-on.
The police vehicle inches toward me, its headlights framing me in the dark. But it doesn't stop. The officer expects me to move out of the way, but I won't. My adrenaline has already kicked up. I'm already coasting on the thrill, ready to take it further and make the challenge bigger.
I've read that when climbers are on the side of a cliff, two
hundred feet above the ground, their muscles taut and their fear just barely kept at bay, they sometimes lose grip and footing on one side. They swing out over the canyon. Dangling. Gripping for their life. They call it “barn dooring,” and climbers say it's the biggest rush ever. When it happens, they don't think of splatting against the ground. Or assess their life's worth in case it ends. They don't think beyond that moment at all. Instead, with their adrenaline off the charts, everything compresses to a pinpoint of thought and feeling. They hyperfocus. Colors burst brighter. The wind skims faster and cooler over their skin. The stone beneath their gripping fingers and toes becomes as solid and supportive as ever.
Only after they swing back around, climb to the plateau, look down at how far the ground is, do they think,
Well, shit, man. I could have died.
That's sort of how it is with my pranks and with talking my way out of them. The prank is like the climb up the cliff. The talking my way out is the barn dooring. I know the ground is waiting for me to splat. So the fear is right at my back. But it's like I'm dangling up high, seeing everything sharper. Hearing things louder. Hyperfocusing on the words, the strategy, and the wit I know I can use to get myself out of trouble and prevent VP Barnes, Principal Levy, or, right now, this cop from dropping me fast and slamming me with punishment.
I never hurt anyone. I don't put people in danger, don't violate civil rights. My conscience is clear. I just have to take in a deep breath and face the rush of the moment.
The police car stops millimeters from my legs. The car door opens. I can vaguely make out the Pineville Police seal on its side. Two seconds later, a stocky police officer towers in front of me,
his hand resting on his firearm. He swings the light of his flashlight toward Carver and Sam, now next to him. They both stand frozen. Then his light and scowling gaze settle on me.
Instantly, I know him. His mushroom-shaped nose and small, sunken eyes look familiar. I read his name badge.
I stifle a delighted laugh. I'm luckier tonight than I ever thought I'd be.
“So,” the cop's voice rumbles in his thick neck, “you kids are out a little late tonight, aren't you?” Even the voice is familiar.
“Well, Officer, late is relative, don't you think?”
His glare intensifies. “What's your name, son?”
“Jack S. Dalton, sir.”
Beneath his buzz cut, Officer Fogerty's thick eyebrows half rise in recognition. His jaw tenses. His hand pushes harder against the firearm at his hip.
I point my index finger at him. “I do believe you and I are distantly related. In a legal sense only, of course.”
“How's that, son?” But he knows. His brother, a cop in Hallend, has tried to arrest me at least a dozen times but never had enough evidence to haul me in. I'm sure it'll be the same with this brother.
“Hey, how are your bro's hemorrhoids?” I ask. “He looked a little uncomfortable sitting on that hard stool in the doughnut shop in Hallend last month.”
Carver and Sam stifle laughter.
Fogerty 2 straightens, leans over me like a spigot trying to douse me with his authority. “Listen, Dalton.” He uses the same you're-in-trouble tone as his brother. “I want to know what you boys are doing out in the dark prowling the streets.”
“Wow. Prowling is a pretty heavy word, Officer.” I'm wickedly
thankful Sam's car and all the cutout evidence is parked and buried safely in a nearby neighborhood. I learned early on never to carry all the evidence on me. Travel light, strike fast.
We're also damn lucky the altered deer sign is facing away from Fogerty 2's car. Unless he figures out exactly what we were doing, he most likely won't walk around to witness the appendage we've added.
stick to the facts
. “And I think you are jumping to some seriously premature conclusions. I mean, if my friends and I were all seventy-year-old ladies with red hats and canes walking down this street in the dark, you would think we were out for a bit of fresh air on this fine mid-September evening.”
Make up new facts.
“What makes you think we aren't out enjoying the stars?” I point up to the overcast night sky.
“Dalton, listen up.” Fogerty 2 steps so close, I can smell his pine-fresh aftershave and the coffee on his breath. “You are in my jurisdiction now. I don't know how my brother handled you”âby the twitch in his cheek, I can tell he's lyingâ“but here in Pineville, if you don't play by my rules, I'll teach you how real quick.”
“Hey, that sounds groovy,” I say. “More time to get to know each other. We can discuss Miranda rights and Tasers and compare our favorite county judges.”
“Shut up.” He scowls below the bill of his police hat.
I smile. “Right. I'll let you be. You're super-busy, I'm sure. Those doughnuts aren't going to eat themselves. Hey, guys,” I call to Sam and Carver. “Let's let Officer Fogerty get back to work.”
Sam and Carver nod and wave in agreement. Fogerty 2 points his flashlight at them, pinning them still. “I'm watching you, boys.” They nod harder.
Fogerty 2 peers at them for a long moment. “Sam Kearns?”
“Yes, Officer.” Sam stands tall, squinting with Fogerty 2's flashlight in his eyes.
“Your mom won't be too happy to know you are out prowling.”
“Again with the âprowling.'” I throw my hands in the air.
“Truly, Officer,” Sam says, “we were simply taking a walk. Pineville, as you well know, is a beautiful city at night.” His words hold an impressive, smooth confidence. He sounds like the senator he never wants to be.
“See?” I point at Sam. “What he said.”
The officer jabs his finger at me. “I don't trust you one dang bit. I'm watching
more than anyone.”
“And that, Officer, makes me feel real special.” I hold out my hand to shake his. But he ignores me and stalks to his car. He backs the vehicle up a little too fast before turning it around and practically squealing away. And a warm satisfaction hits me. My heart beating super-fast. My blood pumping hard. My first interaction with my new town's police successfully behind me. Like an official initiation into Pineville.
â¢Â Â Â â¢Â Â Â â¢
The next morning, ten hours after anatomically enhancing Pineville's deer signs, I'm wiping the sweat from my forehead, grabbing two more clean towels, and waiting for the next car to emerge from the car wash's dangling cloth ribbons.
The Suds and Shine in Hallend is a good twenty-minute drive from Pineville, but just because I've moved, I don't want to leave it. For three years now, it's been a good job, and my boss is super-cool.
A Toyota Highlander heads out of the chute, and I lunge to dry it before another car pops out.
“It's gettin' colder out,” forty-year-old Hollis, the other dryer on this shift, says.
“Can't feel the cold now.” I move fast, my arms burning and my back screaming from bending over to dry the tire wells of what had to be 150 vehicles already this morning.
“Oh, we'll feel it soon enough. Winter's comin' early this year.” Hollis's eyebrows rise in his smooth, dark face. The short black hair at his temples is graying. He's been at this job much longer than me, needs the money even more than I do. He comes from the declining town next door, has four young mouths to feed, three of them under twelve. He's a good guy and a crazy-hard worker.
“Mind if I take my fifteen-minute break now?” I ask Hollis, watching the Highlander drive away.
“Go to it.” Hollis smiles. Like me, he's happy to have a job, and happy it's here.
I head to Tony Ritter's office, knock on the door decorated with a wood plaque that says “The Boss.”
“Yeah,” his voice rumbles. He smiles when he sees me walk into the office. “Jack, what's up?” He's dressed in his usual golf jacket and jeans. His Detroit Tigers baseball hat, faded from the sun and sweat, covers his shaggy gray hair. His desk is loaded with receipts and register tape.
“How's it going, Tony? I came to ask for a favor.”
“Oh, shit. Please don't tell me you want time off, because I've already had three people come in and ask me that today.” He scrapes calloused fingers over his long chin.
I shake my head. “Just the opposite, actually. I need more shifts if you can give them to me. I hate to ask, but my mom and I just had to leaveâ”
He raises his palm. “Uh-uh. Remember my cardinal rule? I
don't need to know your business as much as no one sure as shit needs to know mine. So keep your sob story to yourself and take a seat, kid. I've got spots to fill on my schedule, and your name is going on them.”
“Thanks, Tony.” I settle into one of the stiff chairs in front of his desk, relieved. I came and asked him for this job the day after Mom banked her car off the car wash conveyer, stuck it in park halfway through the wash, and got out to stand in the raining suds. She was Ã¼ber-wasted, singing “I Will Survive” at the top of her lungs. I figured I wouldn't have to say much to Tony about why I wanted money. And he didn't ask. Just gave me the uniform T-shirt and told me to be there by four the next day. The fact that he still never asks makes him the best boss I've ever had. In exchange, I work my ass off for him. I've never shown up late, never complain. And like now, I always grab any extra shifts he wants to throw at me to pay for those unopened bills on my counter.
Once my name is splattered all over the schedule, I get up to leave.
“Before you get back out to the line,” Tony says, “there's a cell phone going berserk in the break room. Might want to check to see if it's yours.”
Panic cuts through me. But I keep a calm smile. “Thanks.”
I head to my jacket hung on a break-room chair, dig my phone out of the side pocket, where I usually keep it so it doesn't get drenched and destroyed by all the wash water. I check it often, but today, with my focus on making as much cash as I can, it clearly wasn't enough. Dr. Kristina Surrey, my mom's psychiatrist, has called eight times. I curse myself as I click to listen to her latest message.
“Hi, Jack. It's Dr. Surrey again. I just really want to make sure
your mom is all right, because she missed her appointment this morning and isn't answering her phone when I call. Can you let me know if everything is okay? I'll be in the office untilâ”
I hang up, dash back to Tony's office. Don't even knock before I rush in.
He looks up, startled. “Jack?”
“Oh, God, Tony. I hate to do this to you, but I just got a call fromâ”
His palm flies up. “Uh-uh. Don't say it. What do you need?”
“I've got to go. Now.”
Tony purses his pale lips and nods. “I can see on your face you've got yourself a situation, kid. So go ahead.”
“Thanks, Tony. Really.”
“No worries. But, hey, take this with you.” Tony reaches into his desk and pulls out my weekly paycheck. I swear it gleams as he hands it to me.