Zoid Man: Chapters Six and Seven

20 Dec

Zoid Man

Chapter Six

 

It was lunchtime. The “set-up” was a go, literally, as Jack and Benny sat in adjacent stalls in the boy’s bathroom. The greasers were already in the far area towards the windows, blue smoke billowing around their heads. Harland Gillette was one of the smokers, Jack had made sure.

“So Terry has this big jar of change, and he keeps the darn thing in his garage.”

“His garage?” Benny was the straight man, but he had difficulty from sniggering.

“Yeah.”

“How much you reckon is in the jar?”

“Lots. Maybe fifty dollars.”

“Fifty dollars?” Snigger.

“At least. Probably a lot more.”

The boys flushed at the same time and emerged from the stalls to wash their hands. Jack held the spigot open for Benny as he washed, then Benny returned the favor.

“What’s he saving all that change for?”

“I think he wants a new bike. To replace his stolen bike.” Jack took a quick look in the mirror, catching eyes with Harland, who sucked smoke up into his nostrils and glared. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“No. I would never do that.”

They grinned at each other as they left the bathroom. The trap was set.

* * *

Terry was Terry Zimmerman. He was more than willing to help Jack and Benny gather coins from friends who were also willing to join in the cause. Nearly everyone who donated coins had been a victim of theft.

Neither hero let on who the suspect was, but when they explained how the trap would work, nearly all their friends wanted to be a part of it.

The jar they used was a huge Mt. Olive glass pickle container that Jack’s father kept on the bar in the basement. Jack had to eat two large pickles to empty it, then drained out the sour liquid and washed it down as best he could.

“Whew!” Benny face soured when Jack unscrewed the bright yellow lid and the two began to shovel change into it. The coins clinked on the bottom at first, then nestled into a massive layer about two inches thick. Jack took the bottle of silver nitrate he had swiped from Doc Nick’s supply closet and poured the entire contents over the coins. The two then worked together to carefully tilt and careen the jar so that the coins were coated in the chemical.

They placed the jar along the front entrance of the garage at Timmy Zimmerman’s, against the wall, slightly hidden.

“Don’t you want to put it in plain view?”

“No. It can’t be an obvious trap.”

And they waited through the night at home in their beds.

At six-thirty in the morning Jack’s home phone rang.

“It’s gone!”

“All of it?”

“Most of it.” Timmy sounded excited, and Jack could hardly wait to get to school.

At Frankton Junior High students arrived early, except for the very few who rode the bus. Harland was one of those.

Students gathered in small clusters according to their grade, their gender, and which neighborhood they lived in. It was very cliquish. The greasers also had their little groups, and they normally collected in an area near the large magnolia tree that dominated the front lawn area of the school. Littered about the ground were the butts of hundreds of cigarettes. Coveys of girls also gathered not far from the tree, with coy almost-teen girls tittering and peeking at the greasers.

Every now and then someone would shout “PINK-BELLY!” and a hapless seventh grader would take off across the lawn, chased by a posse of screaming boys, who would catch and upend their victim, pull his shirt up, and beat mercilessly on the boy’s stomach with the flats of their hands until his belly burned a bright red.

Jack and Benny stood in their own dyad, stamping their feet against the October cold.

“So, you gonna do it?”

“Yeah. It’s now or never. Wish me luck.”

Jack strode nervously over to the magnolia tree, seeking out Harland with his eyes. Harland was lighting a cigarette when he spotted Jack.

“Hey, Harland.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, I was thinking I’d give you an advance.”

“An advance on what?”

“You know — the monthly blackmail payment.”

“You little turd! I ain’t blackmailing you! I’m insuring you against the trouble you’d be in if certain people knew you were hanging out at Henrys, is all.”

“Sure. Insurance. Well, here’s next month’s premium.”

“Premium?”

“Payment, then. For the insurance.” Jack dug out a dollar bill from his pants. “My mom gave me two dollars for lunch today, and I can get by on one.”

“Oh, sure. Thanks.”

Harland reached for the bill. His hand was covered with blotches of black.

“Hurt your hand?”

“Huh? Oh, naw. I was working on my dad’s car. Engine grease is all,” and he took the dollar and shoved it into his pocket, then turned back to his cronies.

Jack couldn’t help grinning broadly at Benny as he walked back. The school bell rang loudly, and the yard full of teens and preteens turned toward the building and another boring school day. Except Jack knew this day was not going to be so boring.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Jutsie Smith looked at Jack and Benny as if they were nuts.

“I can’t do that! What are you thinking? If I get caught, for sure I’ll lose my position as an office assistant! No telling what else! I could get suspended!”

“Jutsie — that’s not going to happen, I promise! We’ll help, too. Benny and I will keep lookout. Just his address, that’s all we need. And you don’t even have to write it down! Just show it to me and we’re done! Honest!”

“Yeah, I’ll be the one that’s done!”

Jack tried to put on his best sad puppy face — the one Jutsie could never resist. He reached across the cafeteria table and took her hands in his. All about them was the chaos of students lost in their conversations and lunch. No one paid them any heed. Benny sat and munched on Jutsie’s potato rounds, nodding, his eyebrows raised with anticipation.

For years Jack’s parents called Jutsie Jack’s little girlfriend. As they grew, her cherub face and curly hair began to show promise of burgeoning beauty. Jack, on the other hand, had grown gawky. So their future together faded very much like the black and white scalloped-edge photos had over the years. But it was that history that Jack counted on.

“Pleeeeeease! Jutsie, please help us out!” he implored, squeezing her hands.

“Oh, all right! But this is the first and the last time!”

Jack and Benny erupted with their victory! Jutsie, on the other hand, simmered.

Jutsie had office assistant duty the very next period after lunch. After the bell, she grabbed two hallway passes and scribbled on them, then marched officiously to the class Jack and Benny shared, handing the notes to their teacher.

“Jack Carter and Benny Sampson, you are wanted in the office.”

A wave of oohs filtered through the class as the two joined Jutsie and followed her out of the classroom and down the hallway.

“It’s working!” Benny said as they headed for the school office.

“Will you shut up?”

“Sorry, Jutes.”

The office was empty, other than a secretary busy in the corner typing something. The Principal and vice-principal were still out to lunch — one of the perks of working in school administration.

Benny positioned himself inside the glass-paned wooden door to the office where he had a clear view of the hallway in either direction. Jack nonchalantly walked to the long counter where he stood expectantly as Jutsie walked behind it to a large card catalog filled with narrow drawers. She quickly opened one of the drawers and fingered through index cards until she found what she wanted.

Gillette, Harland.

She cupped the card in her hand and walked to the counter where Jack awaited, and slid the card face-down across the smooth surface. The secretary who was typing looked up and noticed Jutsie and Jack.

“Anything I can help with, Jutsie?” She smiled politely, but there was that elderly aura of suspicion that all adults — especially in a school — posses.

“No, thanks, Mrs. Green. I’ve just got to get a few supplies for Jack’s teacher. So, this is all she needs, right?” She flipped the card over so Jack could read the address. He wrote it on the palm of his hand with a pen fastened to the counter by a beaded chain.

“Yeah. That’s it.”

Jutsie walked back to the card catalog file and slipped the card back into place, then stooped down to grab a box of chalk and a ream of paper. She handed the items to Jack, who nodded his thanks, winked, then hustled out of the office, Benny on his heels.

“Did you get it?”

“I got it.”

“You know, Jack, I think Jutsie likes you!”

“Shut up.” And they headed back to class, where Jack presented his surprised teacher with a box of new chalk and the ream of paper.

* * *

Harland’s house was quite a hike. Jack and Benny decided to meet late at night and bike to the location. They wore their superhero costumes. Jack’s cape bothered him, and he was afraid it might get caught in the gears of his ten-speed, so he balled it up and shoved it under his sweater.

“You’re looking a lot like me, Jack.”

“Zoid Man.”

Taking shortcuts where they could, and staying off the main roads, they zig-zagged the distance to Harland’s street address. His house was at the end of a dead end street, which turned from pavement to gravel, and finally to scraped dirt.

“Wow! This is definitely the other side of the tracks!”

The house was very small, and constructed of cinder blocks. Metal frame crank out windows peaked out like dark eyes in the light of the street lamp from where the road changed. A thin strip of smoke fingered upward from a masonry chimney stack on the roof.

To the side of the house a dirt drive descended to a backyard that was lower than the road level. An old sedan rested on blocks, and the area around the car was strewn with old tires and a car seat that had been removed. A rope swing with a short two-by-four hung from a branch of a large oak tree.

The boys walked quietly down the drive. Towards the back of the small yard was an old metal shed. Jack nodded towards the shed and pulled out his flashlight. He shined a light on the structure. There was no lock on the door. He crept to the shed and tried to open the small door. It wouldn’t budge. Benny took his flashlight and went to the rear of the shed, shining a light on the ground as he walked.

“Psst!”

“What?”

“Come back here! There’s a window!”

Jack hustled to the back of the shed, where Benny was shining his light through a window into the building.

“Look-ee here!”

Jack pressed his face against the cold glass and peered in as Benny scanned the interior with his flashlight.

Lawnmowers. Basketballs. Bikes. Charcoal grills. And, an empty Mt. Olive glass pickle jar, with a few coins still inside it. And more.

Jack and Benny could barely contain themselves. Until they heard the snap of a twig as someone stepped on it, and were suddenly bathed in the bright light of a flashlight.

“You boys mind telling me what you’re doing here?”

It was a policeman.

 

 

Copyright © 2015

 

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