I've got nothing
against returns, unless someone expects me to do the stealing.I'm
no good at it.Two misdemeanor charges for shoplifting convinced
me of that fact years ago.But when somebody else is boosting I
have no objections.It's their immortal souls that are at risk,
Henry Pockets was
the one doing it, not me.I was in the parking lot in the car,
waiting. Right there I was, outside of Mervins.As usual, he was
taking his time. Then I saw a well-dressed stick figure appear at
the edge of the lot.It was him, and he was headed my way.When the
door opened I could see he was in a rush.I can't say exactly what
he looked like but I will say this.You know how, after you watch
a magician in a tuxedo making doves appear, his clothes seem a
little baggy?That's how he looked when he left the car.Now,
coming back, he looked normal.The coat he had on was cheap.But it
had dollars' worth underneath it and stuffed in his marvelous
expandable pants.He looked like a business man or just another
mall employee on break, real normal and all.That was his
intent.He said nothing, and was in a hurry.That was good
"Where we goin'?''
I asked, though I knew the answer.
That was good news
Deb was a young
housefrau with two small kids.At this time of day they'd be at
school. She relieved her boredom by doing Stuff.That's how it was
with her.She had a good figure, but even more important, an
innocent mug. She was good at appearing helpless, and had that
angel's face which was just the icing on her personal cake.She'd
be doing the returns.She was made for it.
She ran out of the
house just when we pulled up, slamming the screen door behind
her. She was in a good mood, already counting her chickens.That's
good.It's always good to be positive about such pursuits.A good
clerk or manager can smell defeat or nervousness all over you, so
attitude is real important.With her, playing the ingénue wasn't
hard.With her, it was real.
Now it was my
turn.We dropped onto the 805 then came down into Mission Valley,
swinging onto the 8 west.I began to quiz her.But first, I took
off my gold ring and slipped it on the third finger of her left
"Now, little girl,
what's your story?"
"It's a gift from
my mother to my husband for his birthday.She didn't know his
size. I matched it up with his clothes in the closet to see if it
fit, and found out he's already got one, so I want a
"Already got one
"One whatever it
is.Shirt, pants, sweater, whatever. What is it this time
He did a bit of
shuffling, then produced two pairs of pants, skillfully
folded.She pressed them with her hand to smooth out the
"Real nice Hen,
real nice.Look, they're forty-five bucks each!"
coursethey are," he answered matter of factly, "You know Mervin's
limit is $100.00 without the receipt."
"Why don't you have
a receipt?" I asked Deb.
"Like I said," she
countered, "they were a gift."
She had it down.I
don't see why not.It wasn't her first time.
We were entering
Fashion Valley West.They had a Mervin's here too.We knew every
Mervins from the Mexican border to Carlsbad I guess. Then we
parked, and it was me and Hen's turn to wait.
What was my job?I
was the coordinator.I made all phone calls, scheduling, picked
the spots, or "cased the joints" as Hen put it.Parking, exits,
were up to me, as well as keeping score, reporting changes in
store policy, and making sure Henry always had a sharp pair of
toenail clippers for the security tags. Call me J. T., short for
Jack of all Trades.
"Your job is easy
Jay," Henry once told me, "All you're here for is to pick up the
I was hoping then,
as I always did, they'd be none to pick up.
The smile Deb had
on her face was visible from the other side of the lot.She was
walking toward us as if she had money in her pocket.That was
good.Before she'd even got in, Hen started the car.She handed the
money to me.
"I count only
seventy-seven," I said, "why seventy-seven?"
She answered right
away, "At this store they're on sale, 15% off."
"Oh," was all I
could say.I'd check later.A girl like Deb could always nickel and
dime you to death when she had a good story, sometimes even when
she didn't.That Cool Angel Face didn't snow me one bit.I wouldn't
Now Mike was
driving fast.When I looked over, he was gagging in anticipation.I
never could stand seeing him driving like a bat out of Hell and
gagging at the same time.It worried me.It was just so
He sped down the 8
west, then to the 165, straight to downtown.It was Sherman Street
he was heading for.I'll admit I was a little bit exited myself,
and I didn't even have a habit.He stopped at the corner of Coco
and Sherman in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. This was
the most dangerous stop. Deb and I nervously searched the horizon
for black and whites while Hen went inside.The house was having a
sale; five balloons for the price of three.
Hen was in, he was
out.We were on our way.
When he got in he
handed the balloons to me.
He wouldn't trust
Deb.Last time she "lost" one in the car.We tore it apart the next
day looking. Of course we didn't find it.That's how it was with
Deb; she always had something up her sleeve.You had to watch
The balloons from
the 99 cent store were from China.Appropriately colored, they
were Chinese red outside.Inside that were ones of blue.They'd
been double wrapped for quick disposal just in case.Inside the
blue was the Brown.They were tiny party balloons.Each one was
guaranteed to contain a tiny party.Then we were rolling again,
and I should have felt safe, but I had a feeling, as I stared at
them, that we had started down a one-way street in the wrong
direction, and what was worse, we were in a hurry to get "there"
yet didn't know exactly where "there" was.
We had the Greek
god Morpheus imprisoned in a Mexican brown dirt jail surrounded
by a red Chinese balloon guard.We had to be careful with him and
cautious as well.I knew the truths he provided could prove to be
elusive because they contained dreams.And I would learn one other
thing from him... eventually.You don't mess with the Gods.
many who choose to abuse this drug, this proves to be their
ultimate lesson in life, their first lesson in death.The
admission fee to the University of Heroin is too costly for
many.Some will pay the ultimate price, whether they pass, fail,
or even drop out.If I were you, I wouldn't sign up, not even for
a nickel bag, not even for free.Don't spend the rest of your life