Tuesday, March 15, 2005


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

From the Crime Files of Detectives, Inc.
Job #1: Boy Detective

Bruce Takes A Powder

Despite all of my dreams and fantasies about what life as a detective would be like, the harsh reality was that I would have been singularly unprepared for all the physical action I had envisioned. I was not Batman. I wasn't even Robin. If I had stumbled upon a gang of counterfeiters, they'd have stuffed me in a sack and tossed me down a well without me inflicting so much as a scuff on their shoes.

I was not a fighter. Hated violence of every kind. When my father was in one of his erratic moods and stormed around the house smacking anyone luckless enough to be in his way, I headed for the back door, and hid out in the woods behind the field until my brother came looking for me. When someone picked on me at school, I tried to talk my way out of it. Not so much because I had enough intimidation at home, but because I knew how the encounter would go, had known since second grade, when Adam Schwartz slapped me in the face and my glasses went flying. Without them, I was as good as blind, absolutely useless in a fight. So I tried reasoning with my would-be opponent instead.

That never worked with Bruce. Talking only seemed to encourage him to pound on you. Since he had in the past twice pinned me to the ground (and had both times administered the final humiliation of daubing my glasses with spit), he regarded me as easy prey. And as he ran at me outside the motor depot that day, screaming at me to give up the stuffed dog Shawn and I had worked so hard to recover, I was forced to concede that I WAS easy prey. When it came to fighting, my opponents were always much more eager to deal out pain than I was. I worried too much about the consequences. I never felt the rage and fury my opponents seemed to feel in the moment. All I ever seemed to feel was fear.

I was a little too preoccupied to think about it then, but later I realized how stupid it was of us not to have figured Bruce into our plans that day. Assuming he really had left the dog on the bus, and given the principal's ultimatum to return the dog by first bell the next morning, it only made sense that he would come down to the motor depot. I don't think that he realized the full truth--that he was riding a different bus Monday than the one he had ridden on Friday when he stuffed the dog down the seat. But he must have thought that perhaps the bus has been cleaned out over the weekend and he might find it in the depot's trash. Or that maybe Brian Vaughan or some other district mechanic might have found it and set it on a desk somewhere in the repair hut. And anyway, since he really didn't take the dog, where else was he going to look for it?

Bruce kept on running at us, his face a mask of determination. Shawn, always so much braver than I (but really no stronger nor more eager to mix it up with Bruce) stood between us and yelled, "We found it! We're taking it back to Melinda!"

"No you ain't!" squealed Dee Dee, hustling along behind Bruce, leaving their friends to stand by the gate. Dee Dee looks all sweet and innocent in her class picture, but she was a holy terror. She was much taller than Bruce--she was two years older than all of us--and had a ropy muscularity that made her both strong and agile in a fight. And in the few girl-fights that had occurred at our school, Dee Dee was always responsible for the bloodiest ones. In a way, we almost feared her more than Bruce. Almost.

I backed up, hating myself as I did. There's a little part of you that dies inside when you feel yourself giving way to the threat of intimidation, and I felt that inner death now. My heart was beating in my ears and my mouth felt like it was full of pennies as my body decided whether to stand or run. I suppose the smart thing would have been to just give it up. The end result would be that same: Melinda would still get her dog back. It would just happen tomorrow. And Bruce and the principal would be the ones responsible, not us. I tried to imagine going to Melinda's tonight and telling her we found the dog but that Bruce took it from us, and that made me feel even worse.

Of course, it took far less time to feel and think these things than it took to write them, and it took Bruce almost no time to close the distance between us. Shawn stuck out a skinny arm and blocked him.

"You gimme that or you're gonna wish you had!" he hollered at me as he twisted around Shawn.

I wanted to say something. How unfair he was being, how we had just done him a big favor by finding this dog, how he'd be out on his suspended ass if it weren't for us (let's face it, Jack would have dragged the bus halfway to Kansas City by now, and the dog would be gone forever). How we weren't even getting paid for this!

But the words wouldn't come. All I could manage was a squeaky, "No."

And then Bruce got free and lunged at the dog in my hand. I backpedaled, my arm upraised behind me, keeping the dog away. Later Shawn told me that he tried to grab Bruce from behind, but by then Dee Dee had arrived and she got Shawn in a very unladylike headlock.

Bruce kept coming. He snorted like a bull and gave me a hard push in the chest. I was still moving backwards, so I stumbled and went down, the dog flying from my hand. I landed hard on one side and when I hit the ground, I heard a sickening crunch.

The noise was loud enough that even Bruce hesitated, thinking maybe he had gone too far, broken my leg or something. I rolled over, saw what really happened, and felt the blood drain from my face.

I was still wearing the Mobile Crime Lab and had landed on my right side, on the bulky pouch that contained my treasured fingerprint kit. When I hit the ground, the pouch burst open. And so, I could see, had my plastic bottles of fingerprint dust. The bottle of black graphite, which I used to pick up prints on light surfaces, was completely broken and the pouch was filled with the fine dust. My brushes and the roll of fingerprint tape were covered. The bottle of talcum powder that I used for dusting on dark surface was also cracked. The lid had popped clean off and a little bit of the talcum was seeping out.

My fingerprint kit.

My whole life, I've always had a problem showing anger. As a kid, I'd seen enough indiscriminate rage in my own house that I saw anger as something to avoid. It took a lot to piss me off, then and now. But in that moment, all the fear I was feeling, all the unfairness and uncertainty drained away. And in its place came a startling and unexpected sensation. I was furious.

"You. Broke. MY. FINGERPRINT. KIT!!!" I howled.

Bruce, in these few seconds, had scooped up the dog, and I bet afterwards he wished he had run. But no, seeing me on the ground again made him realize he had to administer his signature, his coup de grace. And as I was looking down at my broken kit, he stepped closer, opened his mouth and licked two fingers, preparing to daub my glasses the moment I looked up.

So he still had his mouth open when I howled and turned and threw the open bottle of talcum powder right in his face.

Then it was his turn to howl.

Talcum powder is some nasty shit, let me tell you. Years later, when my son was just born, a well-meaning friend gave us a gift basket containing some, but I insisted on getting rid of it, telling my wife all the respiratory problems I had read it could lead to. And as I went to put it in the trash, I bumped something, squeezed the container and caught a squirt of it right in my eyes. The pain was intense. I couldn't see.

And my first thought was, So this is how Bruce felt.

He dropped the dog and doubled over sneezing, coughing, rubbing his eyes. It was in his mouth, up his nose, and he must have snorted some of it because he making these wonderful gagging noises and crying, "Ha-a-a-ggg-help me Dee Dee! Ha-a-a-ggg! I can't see! Ha-a-a-ggg me!"

I'll say this for them: they were really devoted to each other. Dee Dee let Shawn go instantly and ran to Bruce. I jumped up, grabbed the dog and did a little hop around her. Dee Dee gave me a hate-filled look that I can still see, but was too worried about Bruce to do more than make a half-hearted snatch at me. Shawn--carrying the book bag with our stuff, God bless him--took off towards town and I followed him as fast as I could. Bruce and Dee Dee's friends were still standing by the gate, pointing and laughing at the spectacle.

I couldn't believe it. We got away. No shit-kicking involved. I was positively jubilant.

After that, I was expecting a hero's welcome at Melinda's house, which we reached at a dead run in about 4 minutes. Shawn rang the bell and her mom came to the door. Melinda's dad was the pastor at one of the local churches and her mom, a stern woman, taught Bible school. She eyed us balefully. And I supposed we looked a sight, especially me. In the tussle, the Mobile Crime Lab had gotten turned so that the pouch containing the fingerprint kit was now settled on the small of my back. But the pouch was torn and graphite dust was sprinkling out of it, so to Melinda's mom it must have looked like I was shitting a fine black powder on her porch.

"Melinda is just sitting down to her supper. She can't come out to play," her mom coolly informed us, when we asked to see her. She started to close the door when Shawn spoke up.

"But--but we found her dog for her! We wanted to give it back."

Now, this will change her tune, I thought. But all she did was open the door a little wider and stick out her hand. I looked down at the dog, gave him a little shake to get some of the dirt and talcum powder off him, and somewhat reluctantly handed him over. Melinda's mother took it as one might take, perhaps, a turd with a festive bow wrapped around it. Then she closed the door in our faces.

I looked at Shawn in rank disbelief. "You gotta be kidding!" I exclaimed, still a little keyed up from our almost-a-fight. He shrugged. What else could we do? We turned to go.

As we started down the steps, the door flew open again and there was Melinda, clutching her prize to her skinny chest, smiling about as widely as she is in her picture. Not pretty, exactly, but certainly radiant. We were used to her being a whiny crybaby, but at that moment she was bubbling with thanks and praise, wanting to know how we had found it. But her mother was calling her back to the supper table.

"I'll tell you all about it on the bus tomorrow," I said, tromping on Shawn's foot as I did, a reminder that his impulsiveness meant I was going to have to sit next to Melinda on the bus for the rest of the school year. But the truth is, I really didn't mind so much. Not because I liked Melinda more now, but because it all seemed to have paid off. So we headed off the porch and back down the street, Melinda's cries of thanks still ringing in our ears.

It was only after her door closed that Shawn snapped his fingers and said, "Dang! We forgot to ask her for our 50 cents a day!"

I'd love to leave the story there. Two good pals walking down a darkening sidewalk near the end of a warm spring day, a day in which they have for the first and, as it would turn out, only time, fulfilled perhaps the greatest aspiration their young minds could conceive.

Ending it now would spare them one more twinge of the slight pain they always felt when they parted at a particular corner (Shawn to go off to the brothers and sister he so loved in a house he so hated, me to go home vaguely worrying what kind of mood my father would be in, and whether or not I'd have to spend another evening hiding from him in the woods).

Ending it now would spare them the retaliation of Bruce and Dee Dee, which would come again and again.

Ending it now would preempt an awful moment in the principal's office the next day, and the discovery of a new mystery that would never be solved...


I'm in awe of your WPM.
Much clapping & giggling.
More! More!
Your stories make me remember. Keep on keeping on...
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