The Hardware Detective

Hale’s summer job gets him in trouble. Just not the good kind.

An Eddy and McClure Story

That Friday night, Hale Eddy decided he needed to get a job. Just like that. He wandered into the living room where his dad was watching “Game of Thrones” on HBO.“Hey, Dad!” he called over the sound of battle, “Are there any jobs at Parks I could get?” Eddie Eddy was a supervisor at the Parks Department.

Eddie hit the mute button and turned to his eldest son. “Naw. Hale, you’d hate it there. For one thing, I would be in your face so as not to show favoritism. For another,” he continued, “you’d be weed whacking and lawn mowing. Since you don’t do that here at home, why would you want to do it at Parks?”

Hale considered. “Yeah. Guess you’re right.” He wandered outside. A thought struck him and he jumped on his bike and headed for Pete’s Saloon on Henry Street. Just like that.

Pete’s Saloon was where his dad would spend evenings at the bar with his cronies from the Parks Department. Bud Rawlins, the bartender shook his head. “Sorry, Hale. You can’t work in a bar ‘til you’re eighteen. Besides you’d spend all your money on that ancient Space Invaders game.” Bud looked thoughtful. “By the way, you still owe me quarters from the last time you were here.”

Hale shrugged muttering over his shoulder on the way out, “I’ll pay you back. When I get a job!”

That Saturday, Hale was out and about early. He headed downtown thinking he’d try the gas station for a job. Just as he passed the bus stop, the Cuttersville bus pulled up. Without really thinking about it, he felt in his pockets for the fare and boarded the bus. Just like that.

Trickling his quarters into the hopper and nodding to the driver, Hale took a seat halfway down the aisle and looked around. There was a Latina woman with shopping bags. A grey-haired man who looked tired was staring out the window. A young guy wearing earbuds, the wire stretching down to his pants pocket. Hale could hear the bass boom and treble crackle from where he sat. He had noticed there were two other teenagers he didn’t recognize sitting in the back of the bus. “Maybe they’re from Cuttersville,” he thought.

Three nurses in blue scrubs got on at the Southcove Hospital stop. The grey-haired, tired guy got off. “He’s going to Emergency Room,” Hale fantasized. “He has a gunshot wound and will just make it through the door before falling unconscious.”

At the next intersection, by a commuter parking lot, two Black women got on along with three kids — a boy, a girl, and a baby. Climbing up the stairs behind them was a person Hale had never seen before. He wasn’t sure if it was a man or a woman. The person had a bald head and was wearing sandals and brown baggy clothes. (“Robes, maybe?” Hale thought.) On consideration Hale decided it was a woman. A bald-headed woman wearing loose clothes.

He overheard her ask the driver, “Is this the bus to Cuttersville?” At the driver’s nod, she asked, “How much?” “One seventy-five.”

She started rummaging in a cloth bag she was wearing over her clothes. “25-50-75-one dollar,” she recited to the clank of the coins in the hopper. “25-50 –oh! I don’t have enough.”

The driver was commencing to get impatient, Hale could tell. With most of the change in the hopper, but not enough to get to Cuttersville, the driver made a quick calculation. “One-fifty’ll get you to Baker Street.”

“Is that far from Railroad Avenue?”

“’Bout a mile or so.”

The person — Hale was back to thinking it might be a man the voice was so low— then said, “Thank you. I can walk from there.”

“It ain’t such a good section of town.” The driver looked over the person’s robes and sandals. “I’d be careful if I was you.” The driver looked at his watch.

Suddenly Hale knew what he must do. Just like that. He hadn’t an inkling that this thought would flash into his mind and even later he wasn’t sure it really did.

“Wait!” he called, getting up and feeling in his pocket. “I have a quarter!” Hale dropped in the coin, the driver pressed the bar to clear the hopper and put the bus into motion.

The person — it was a woman — looked at Hale, straight into his eyes, and smiled. “You are very kind. Thank you. Namo Amida Butsu.” She caught herself as the bus lurched forward and sat down right up near the door.

Hale felt stunned by her gaze. Calm, yet powerful. As he made his way back to his seat, the feeling of being mentally touched by someone made his trip to Cuttersville seem unreal. “Was that why I hopped on the bus almost without thinking?” he wondered.

Hale mused all the way to the Cuttersville bus station. The two Black ladies and the kids got up and stood in the aisle as they neared the terminal. The teens from the back of the bus pushed up to the front giving Hale sideways glances as they went by.

The bus pulled into the platform and there was a general jostling as the passengers got off. Hale stood up to let the Latina lady with the shopping bags go first. The driver looked up into the rearview mirror and called out: “Last stop! Last stop! Cuttersville! Everybody out!”

That got the attention of the guy with the earbuds who jumped up and cut Hale off as he charged down the aisle.

It ended up that Hale was the last to get off. He looked around for the woman with the shaved head. Everyone else was clustered on the platform, but she had disappeared. Hale felt oddly let down. He realized he had wanted to see where she went, maybe feel that calm penetrating gaze like she somehow was looking deep into his mind.

He wandered down the ramp from the bus station and looking left sighted a Dunkin Donuts at the far end of the street. “Time for a brew,” he decided and started off.

This part of Cuttersville was zoned light industrial. A gas station with a convenience store, Herman’s Autobody Repair, the Dunkin Donuts opposite a White Castle. A UPS depot across from a bakery outlet next to a scrap metal yard. A lumber yard next to a cemetery. Connecting it all was a rail line. As Hale watched, a freight train was bearing down on the crossing with ear-piercing blasts of the horn— two longs, a short, and a long.

Sitting in DDs sipping his iced Macchiato, contemplating his impulse to board the bus, it occurred to Hale that maybe he could get a job in Cuttersville. Immediately, he began to review his options. The gas station was out. He didn’t want to work in a convenience store. Same with the bakery outlet. Boring. He wouldn’t have minded driving a UPS truck, that would be cool, but he didn’t have his license yet. Not that they would take a 15-year-old anyhow. The cemetery didn’t offer any possibilities unless he wanted to mow lawns. (No lawns!) The scrap metal yard looked interesting, but what could he do? Remembering that scene from Goldfinger, he definitely would want to run one of those car crushers. Okay, he thought. Stop at the scrap metal yard first. Then if that didn’t work out, try the lumber yard. After that, catch the bus back to Crawford.

Hale walked through the truck entrance to the scrap metal yard. A bullhorn shattered his thoughts. “Hey, kid! Where’s your hard hat? This is a hard hat area! If you want the office go ‘round to Green Street!”

Whoa. Okay. Hale backed out of the driveway just as a trailer load of scrap was pulling in. The horn near blew his ears out. “Watch out kid!” the driver shouted.

Railroad Lumber & Hardware was on the way to Green Street, so Hale stopped there first. Bells jangled as he entered the store. Long aisles of hardware and supplies stretched out before him. To his left was a counter with cash registers and phones and parts catalogs. Two men were behind the counter in deep discussion with a customer.

“How long is your driveway? Get your square footage then multiply that by 1.5. You got cracks? You’ll need some crack filler. Jimmy can show you where the rubber squeegees are.” The conversation went around and around.

Still standing in the doorway, Hale spoke up. Just like that. “You’ll need to power wash your driveway and let it dry real good before you start.”

Three heads whipped around to stare. In the silence Hale could hear a clock ticking. He struck a pose with his hands in his jean pockets and tried to look unconcerned. Then heavyset man behind the counter said, “Kid’s right. Got a power washer? We rent ‘em if ya don’t.” Conversation picked up again and the heavyset man came around the counter and over to Hale.

“Name’s Bert Rowley. You seem to know something about driveway repair.”

“My dad’s in Parks Department over in Crawford.”

“”You’re a ways from home.”

“Lookin’ for a job.”

“Know how to do anything? Run a register? Stock shelves? Sort lumber?”

“I can fix lawn mowers. None of that other stuff. I could learn though.”

“Yeah? How old are you?”

“Eighteen.” Hale lied.

“Harrumph. You’re fourteen if you’re a day.”

“Fifteen!!” Hale realized too late he’d been trapped into the truth.

“Harrumph,” Bert Rowley said. “Knew it. What’s your name?”

“Hale Eddy.”

“Come on fella! Ya want a job, ya got to tell the truth!”

“Hale Eddy! That’s my name!”

“Damn peculiar name,” Rowley muttered. “Anyway, why come to Cuttersville? There’s a fine lumber yard right in Crawford.”

Hale struggled to express a reason that was as close to the truth as possible, but not the real reason why he had decided to find a job in Cuttersville. The real reasons were that one, he didn’t have a reason, and two, he was bored.

“My dad goes there.” was all he said.

Bert Rowley had two sons and a daughter. The youngest, Frankie, would be the same age as Hank — uh, Hale. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll give you a job application and you fill it out and bring it back next Saturday with your dad’s signature and we’ll see what you can do.”

“Sure.” Hale said, then remembered, just in time, “Uh, thanks.”

Hale sat on the bus back to Crawford looking alternately out the window and at the job application. He wondered where the bald lady in the brown robes had got to and whether he should forge his father’s signature so he could keep his job a secret.


Hale slipped into his seat at dinner just before his father would have bellowed “Where’s Hale?!” It had happened before, many times. Hale knew the drill. But tonight he didn’t want any questions he didn’t want to answer about where he’d been.

As usual, his sister Lizzy excused herself first claiming she had to study for a final in cosmetology school. Hale mumbled, “Excuse, me.” and followed her out to the porch.

Lizzy Eddy was lighting up a cigarette. Pulling in a puff and making smoke rings on the exhale, she stared out at the yard with its ragged grass lapping up against an ancient crabapple tree. She had to study for her final at cosmetology school. But her shift as a cashier at King’s Supermarket was in an hour. For the moment though, she just stared out into the yard and dreamed of the day she would have her own place and her own hair salon business. Maybe in Sanders…

“Liz, I got a question for you.” It was Hale. When Hale said “Liz” instead of “Dizzy Lizzy,” “Lizzy Pizzy” or “Lizard,” he was being serious.


Hale hesitated, breathing in Lizzy’s smoke, coughed, then voiced the decision he’d come to during dinner.

“Will you sign a job application for me? I don’t want Dad to know.”

Lizzy sat up and spurted smoke out her nose. “You want a job? Are you kidding me?”

“Shhhh! You want everyone to hear?” Hale gestured, thumb over his shoulder, toward the kitchen.

Lizzy lowered her voice a decibel, “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Not.” Hale pulled the slightly crumpled job application from his back pocket. “This just says ‘Sign by Parent or Responsible Adult’.”

“Give it here.” Lizzy held her hand out lacquered nail extensions glittering in the semi dark. “Railroad Lumber and Hardware, 450 Railroad Avenue, Cuttersville. “ Lizzy’s head jerked up. “Cuttersville?! What do you want going to Cuttersville for a job?”


“Sorry.” Quieter. “Why Cuttersville?”

“I took a bus out there this morning and — it happened. Just like that.” Hale waved smoke away from his face. “By the way, when are you gonna stop smoking those things?”

Lizzy ignored him. “Well, Cuttersville is just ugly. You could get something in Saunders. I could drive you. Give you cover if it has to be a secret.”

“Naw.” Hale shook his head. “I couldn’t stand being in the car with you smoking all the time.” Then remembered he wanted a favor. “But thanks anyway,” he amended.

“What are your hours?”

“He said come in on Saturday with the application and we’d work something out.”

“What’s the pay?”

Hale’s eyes opened wide. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know???”


“Hale you are a worse dreamer than your brother.” At twelve, Hale’s brother Palmer was noted for having his head permanently in the clouds. Lizzy looked disgusted, took another drag of her cigarette and blew out a deep cloud of smoke.

“You know, if you didn’t smoke, you wouldn’t stink of dead cigarettes.”

“Yeah. Well, you want me to sign this or not?”


“You lay off bugging me about smoking — I’ll sign.”

“I’ll lay off for a month.”

“Two months. I’ll have quit by then.”

Hale looked at his sister appraisingly. “Okay. Deal.” He handed her a pen and she scrawled her name next to “Parent or Responsible Adult” and handed the application back.

“Pen?” Hale held his hand out then caught himself. “And, uh, thanks.”

Just then Eddie Eddy appeared in the doorway heading for his favorite after dinner porch chair. “What’s up, Hale?”

“Nothin’ much. Goin’ for a ride.” Hale did not want to talk about anything with his dad. He jumped on his bike and took off.


Right after breakfast the next Saturday, job application in his back pocket, Hale headed for the Cuttersville bus stop. He half hoped the bald lady would show up. Instead, every seat, and the aisle, too, was filled with worker-types heading to their jobs. “Like me,” he thought. “Maybe.”

It was typical bustling Saturday on Railroad Avenue. UPS trucks were going out, screeching and crashing were coming from Murphy’s Scrap Metal. Cars were wrapped around the Dunkin Donuts drive-through. “All good.” Hale thought.

On the advice of Lizzy, he’s brought proof of residence and his high school ID card with his photo. As he walked towards the lumber yard, Hale patted his back pocket. The application was still there.

As he turned in the entrance, he could see the forklift buzzing back and forth. Entering the store, he could see things were pretty busy there, too. Folks were lined up to pay at the front counter. Others were conferring with store help in the aisles. Snippets of conversation filled the air. “Where do I find hardware cloth?” “The gutter crimpers are in aisle three.” “Go round the back and pick it up there. Show them your receipt.” “Are pressure treated two by fours okay for a raised bed garden?” “Harry! good to see you! What can I do you for?”

The bubble of activity pleased Hale. He felt comfortable here. He stood near the registers and looked around for Mr. Rowley. There was no sign of the heavyset man.

All of a sudden, one of the clerks called, “Hey! You the kid supposed to come by for a job? Help this guy find Scotts Lawn Turf Builder on aisle five!”

Hale looked over his shoulder, but no, the guy was looking right at him. Plus, the customer was heading straight toward him. “Sure!” Hale called back. He gestured to the young man with a baby in a carrier on his chest, “This way.”

Finding Turf Builder in aisle five was a no brainer. There were stacks of the stuff. All different sizes. “What size you looking for” Hale asked quickly scanning the bags. “12 pounds? 37 pounds?”

“I’m not sure.”

Hale flipped over the twelve-pound bag. “Covers five thousand square feet,” he said reading the back of the bag. Thinking about the tennis courts at Crawford Park, Hale guesstimated, “A tennis court is about 2500 square feet.”

“That seems about right. No bigger than that.” The baby in the carrier started to whimper.

“You’ll have some left over, but it keeps. Got a spreader?”

“Yeah. From last year. Thanks.” The baby started to squirm and whimper loudly.

“Okay. I’ll take this up to the counter for you.” Hale eyed the baby and added, “and out to the car.”

With Hale in the lead, the young man and the now crying baby headed towards the check out.

Luckily there was an open register. Hale waited until the sale closed and hoisted the bag on his shoulder following the young man and his now wailing baby to his car. Over the sound of bawling, the young man said, “Thanks. Thanks a lot. Here’s something for your trouble.”

Holy moly! A tip! Hale had never thought of that. “Thanks!” he said spontaneously.

Turned out, Mr. Rowley never showed up that Saturday. Nobody else was authorized to hire Hale. But Hale stuck around until about 2 o’clock helping out here and there, mostly carrying customers’ stuff to their cars. Though he didn’t get any other tips, Hale did learn about customers and the kinds of things they bought this time of year.

Around 2:30, Hale decided he’d had enough. “Hey!” he called out, “Gotta go!”

The guys behind the counter called back as he left, “Come back soon, Hale!” “Thanks for your help!” “We’ll tell Bert you were here.”

Sitting on the bus back to Crawford, Hale’s thoughts were a pleasant jumble of all his experiences.


Three weeks later Hale was sitting in the Cuttersville Dunkin’ Donuts again considering his options. “Grounded for two whole weeks,” he muttered. All because he tipped the police to a bank robbery plot. (Well, not really, the police just came cause his dad and Mr. McClure were hanging out in the bank parking lot. But that was a whole other story.*) No one believed him (except his best friend Doug) right up until the last minute. Actually, past the last minute — it was the next day when the attempted robbery (complete with a chase!) was in the paper. He should have been a hero. Instead, he was grounded.

He had told Doug his bank heist hunch was a secret. But that secret got out big time. And put him in jeopardy with his other secret —the one he never got to tell Doug— about getting a job.

Mr. Rowley had said, “Come back on Saturday,” He didn’t exactly say which Saturday, so Hale hoped showing up on the first Saturday after being grounded would be okay.

Hale took another sip of his Frozen Chocolate Vanilla Spice Coolata. “Hi, Mr. Rowley.” He practiced in his mind. “Remember me? Hale Eddy? Came here looking for a job a couple weeks ago?” No, better say “a while ago.” Nah, that sounded too long. Just say, “looking for a job.”” he thought. “Came here looking for a job,” he practiced.

Hale stood up, took a last sip of his Coolata, hitched up his jeans and sauntered off to the lumber yard.

This time, Railroad Lumber seemed remarkably quiet. The counter guys were all leaning back drinking coffee and shooting the breeze.

Hale’s entrance made the bells over the door ring out and as he was approaching the counter a voice called out from apparently nowhere.

“Well, now, if it isn’t the job seeker, Mr. Hale Eddy.”

Hale looked around for the source of the voice.

“Get in here fella and explain yourself!”

There was Mr. Rowley sitting behind a desk in an office at the end of the counter.

Hale realized that all the lines he’d practiced at DDs didn’t prepare him for this. He’d just have to improvise. He entered the office and stood in front of the desk.

Mr. Rowley looked meaner somehow that Hale remembered. He was actually scowling.

Just then a freight train began to blow at the crossing so Hale didn’t hear Mr. Rowleys’ next comment. So he just started in. “I want to…” he stopped and felt in his back pocket. “Here’s my application for the job.”

“So you hung me up for three weeks without a word? Ya think I’m gonna just wait around until you decided you might show up? Well, time waits for no one. Ever hear of that, fella?”

Hale was stunned. He never imagined this. What the heck was the matter with this guy? He started to think of a lame excuse, then completely changed his mind.

“Well, I was delayed because…well, the truth of it is I, well, I uncovered a bank heist in Crawford and because I was out late, I got grounded.”

“Really. Is that so.” Mr. Rowley scowled at Hale.

“Really. It was in the paper.” Hale fished out a tattered newspaper clipping from his pocket and handed it to Mr. Rowley.

Bert Rowley wasn’t a mean man by nature. He tended to be rough with his own two sons, but he called it “tough love.” But he was truly annoyed that he took a chance on Hale because he thought he saw something in him that he liked. He did not like broken promises, being stood up, and being offered preposterous excuses. He had a business to run. He ran his eyes down the clipping.

“So you think you had something to do with this?”

“Uh-huh. My dad had me talk to the police after they caught those guys. I saw them talking in the bank parking lot the night before and heard the sound of breaking glass.” Hale warmed to recounting the story. “The police found broken glass in the parking lot and more in one of the guy’s car.”

Hale paused wondering if he should say the next part, then decided to go for it.

“But then I was grounded anyway cause I was out late,” he added.

Hale waited while Mr. Rowley looked at the clipping some more.

“That’s some story you got there.” he said finally. “Seems like you have an alert eye.” Mr. Rowley stopped for a moment. “Sit down.”

Hale wondered where this was going. Since he wasn’t summarily being thrown out, he sat down.

“Railroad Lumber stays in business because we are solvent. Know what solvent means?”

Hale nodded having absolutely no idea what Mr. Rowley was talking about. “Yeah. Not in debt.”

“Something like that.” Mr. Rowley looked appraisingly at Hale. “Know what a saboteur is?”

Hale was starting to feel like he was back in Mrs. Japlonsky’s English class. “Terrorist?” he hazarded.

“Close. Troublemaker.” Mr. Rowley looked closely at Hale. You’re wondering how all this applies to a lumber yard and hardware store in Cuttersville on a Saturday morning.”

Hale couldn’t help it. “That’s right.”

Mr. Rowley smiled for the first time since Hale got there.

“Well,—close the door would you, Hale?”

Hale closed the office door and sat down again.

“I believe Railroad Lumber has a saboteur. I don’t know who it is. Maybe one of the guys,” he gestured toward the counter, “or someone else, but my inventory and sales are off. Before I go to the police, I need some evidence.”

Hale was starting to get interested.

“Saturdays are our busiest day. That and Mondays. I can handle Mondays. On Saturdays, I want you straightening shelves, doing shelf inventory, helping customers, all the while keeping your eyes and ears open. Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes.” Hale sensed his one word answer convinced Mr. Rowley more than any long explanation. He thought how he kept the secret of the bank heist —except for telling Doug—and the secret of his job search—except for Lizzy. This secret he couldn’t share with anyone at all. Except Mr. Rowley.

“Anything you see or hear,” Mr. Rowley continued, “anything that feels “off,” you tell me right away. Got that?”


“Will you do it?”

Hale looked at Mr. Rowley looking at him straight in the eyes.


“Good. Saturdays from 10 to 2. Every. Single. Saturday. You got that?”

“Yes,” Hale said.

Mr. Rowley stood up and offered his hand. “Shake on it. Fifteen dollars an hour. Every Saturday starting today. Let’s go meet the guys.”

As he turned to leave, Hale said, “Um, can I have that clipping back?”

Clipping safely back in his pocket, Hale was introduced to Mark Leewood, Jimmy Davidson and Jake Davenport, “the guys.” Jake was detailed to show Hale the ropes.

And Hale’s adventure was official. Just like that.


Around this time Hale’s dad decided to run for Highway Supervisor. Since that took up all his dad’s time, Hale was practically free to do anything he pleased, no questions asked. It pleased him that he could show up at Railroad Lumber every Saturday and no one at home seemed to notice.

Well, Lizzy knew what was going on, but the good thing about Lizzy was that she really didn’t care.

It pained him, though, not to be able to tell his best friend Doug what a cool thing he was doing. Doug would say, “Wanna ride over to Crawford Lake and shoot hoops Saturday?” Hale would have to say, “Naw, too hot” or “Never any courts free” or “Got to mow the lawn”. Doug would look puzzled and that was that.

But at Railroad Lumber Hale was in his element. It didn’t take Jake Davenport long to show Hale how the store was laid out, how to do an inventory, straighten and dust the shelves, how to gr¬eet customers, and generally be polite and helpful. For Jake and the other old timers, Hale was a refreshing change of pace, even if he was a bit taciturn and rough around the edges. He was just a kid, right?

Hale absorbed his tasks in no time. He mastered snooping around while stocking shelves, while keeping an eye on the back dock where customers would pick up big orders, and listening in on the “guys” chatter at the counter while helping customers.

The guys spent a fair amount of time discussing baseball with side arguments about whether the term football had been co-opted by soccer fans and whether real ‘Merican football could be traced back to Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi.

For a while, Hale thought maybe Mark Leewood was the saboteur. Leewood was something of a gambler. Having been with his dad at Pete’s Saloon before the Superbowl, Hale recognized all the signs. Mark bought Powerball tickets with contributions from everyone and constantly reminded everyone how accurate his March Madness bracket predictions had been. Was Mark Leewood dipping into the register to play the horses? Hale couldn’t make any of his suspicions stick.

Then he thought Jimmy Davidson was acting suspicious. He always made sure to serve the same couple customers. Contractors with large, repeating orders. Was something fishy going on there? Hale realized he didn’t know enough about purchase orders and store accounts to tell. If Davidson was the saboteur, then Mr. Rowley could have checked that out right away.

As far as Jake Davenport was concerned, Hale thought Jake was, frankly, just too lazy to do anything tricky.

So, Hale finally gave up on the “guys”. They were exactly what they were — the guys. Plus Hale was starting to get comments from Jake about hanging around the front counter when he should be dusting and straightening.


So Hale switched to working the back of the store where the loading dock was.

It was at the dock that Hale began to be aware something was going on. He took to sweeping out the dock which invariably had peat moss or coconut mulch scattered about.

Hale pieced together the scenario. A customer might buy a couple bags of grass seed, pay up at the front counter, take the receipt and drive around to the dock, and give the receipt to the “yardman” – one of the teenagers from Cuttersville hired for the summer –to load the car. Usually there was a tip involved which was why the “dock guys,” as Hale preferred to think of them, had this job nailed down.

He’d asked Jake Davenport if he could work the yard. The tips looked pretty good from what he could tell. Jake wasn’t having it. “Them’s all taken. High school guys like yourself. Every summer.” Jake was a master of the fractured sentence. “Hard work anyway,” he said dismissively. “Air conditioned in here.”

Sometimes, items like bags of gravel, for instance, were stacked further away in the lot. The customer would drive to where the gravel was stacked, wait for the yardman to arrive on foot and load the car —away and out of sight of the store.

Hale just knew something had to be going on back in Gravel or Top Soil. If he could figure it out, Mr. Rowley might be able to solve his inventory problem and Hale would be a hero. But how to be sure?

The Cuttersville guys were all footballers, big and muscular and 17 or 18. Hale was tall and stringy and strong, but no match for their bulk. But, Hale thought he could find out by hanging out with them. When he tried to make conversation, it didn’t go well.

“Hey. Need help with that?” he’d say pointing to a line of cars with orders for bales of peat and chicken wire waiting to be loaded.

“Mind your own business, sweeper. Go stock shelves or something simple you can handle.” was a typical reply. Then they’d purposefully dump some peat moss on the dock. Hale would feel his temper kicking up, then remember his secret with Mr. Rowley and say, “Whatever.” And walk away.

One Saturday morning Hale was sweeping out the dock when a red pickup truck drove up receipt in hand. Hale had noticed truck showed up regularly for gravel, mulch, fencing, stone – maybe the guy was a landscaper or something. He looked about the same age as his dad, only in better shape. Definitely gruff like his dad, too.

It happened that the dock guys were all off getting coffee for the counter guys, so no one was around. Instead of letting the driver sound his horn for help, Hale stepped up. “Yessir, whatdaya got?”

The driver looked hard at Hale. “Gravel. Eight bags. You new here?”

“Been here all summer.” Hale took the receipt like he’d seen the other guys do. “Meet cha back there.” Hale said it just like the other guys did.

The pickup truck headed down the dirt track leading to the back you the yard sending up a plume of dust as it passed him. He moseyed down the track stopping just behind a stack of plastic fencing and watched as the driver, looking around for prying eyes, tossed two extra bags of gravel onto the truck and quickly covered them up with a tarp.

Jogging down the track, Hale called out, “I can help you with that!” The driver covered his surprise at being caught stealing by jumping down off the back of the truck.

“Just clearing the deck,” he called.

Hale came up to the truck looking at the receipt. “Eight bags,” he said and loaded up the gravel.

“Hey, kid. You from around here?”


“Lookit. Make it worth your while to forget what you saw. The other guys know me, see? Thought you were in with them.”

“Sure.” Hale said.

“So, here.” The driver fingered his cash roll and peeled off a $50. “For your trouble.”

Hale took the fifty. “Sure.” he said again.

Hale stood watching the truck disappear around the side of the store and heard it gunning down Railroad Avenue.

He looked at the fifty. How long had this been going on? He shrugged and headed back to the dock. The dock guys were trickling in. Hale quickly began sweeping.

“Hey, sweepy, seen a red pickup come by?” The biggest footballer they called The Ref confronted Hale.


“Huh. Must be late.” The guy muttered to himself.

Hale kept on sweeping.


On the way home on the bus, Hale got to thinking about what Mr. Rowley had said, “Anything you see or hear, anything that feels ‘off,’ you tell me right away. Got that?”

A payoff to ignore taking extra bags of gravel sure felt “off” to Hale. He should have gotten the pickup truck’s license plate number. Hale fingered the fifty-dollar bill in his pocket. “I guess it’s evidence,” he thought. And touched something else. Pulling his hand out he saw he still had the receipt from the gravel purchase. This could be a clue to the driver’s identity. Maybe he could somehow ask who he was from the counter guys.

After dinner, Hale was about to get on his bike and take off like he usually did, when Lizzy waved to him to come on the porch.

“How’s it goin” she asked.

“It’s going.”

“Notice something different about me?”

Hale considered. “Some kind of stinky perfume?”

“I’m not smoking you crumb!”

“Oh, maybe that’s it. Well, see ya.”

“Hold on there! You said you’d lay off me for smoking for two months. I haven’t had a smoke in four weeks! So now I want an accounting from you what’s happening at your job. Mom’s been asking me questions.”

‘Yeah? That’s not good. Meet me in Crawford Park Community Center. Can’t talk here.”

“You’re all spy versus spy these days aren’t you.”

“Whatever you say, Lizzard. Meet me in ten.” Hale got on his bike and took off.

Lizzy watched her brother ride away. “You’re nothing but trouble!” she called after him. Sighing, she got into her car and drove to Crawford Lake.

When Lizzy arrived, she found Hale in the community center sitting on a folding chair alongside the pickleball court. The poing and whallop of the paddles hitting balls ricocheted off the walls.

“A little noisy in here,” she called.

“Nobody’ll hear us then will they.”

A big shout from one of the players, a moment of quiet, then the poing and whallop started over again.

“I’m going outside. You come too if you want to hear what Mom said.”

“Okay, okay.” Hale followed his sister out into the summer night.

“Mom pulled me aside yesterday and asked if I knew what you were up to on Saturday mornings.” Lizzy began.

“So? What’s it to you whether Mom should know what I’m up to. Why doesn’t she ask me herself?”

“Because,” Lizzy let the irony sink in, “you wouldn’t tell her if she paid you and she knows it.”

“That’s true.” Hale looked thoughtful. “Whaddya say?”

“I said I really didn’t know specifically. Then she said some older teens came by the house asking for you. They made her feel nervous. She said she didn’t want to intrude in your life, which was really nice of her by the way, but if you are in trouble, she’ll have to tell Dad. She asked if I would find out what’s going on. So here I am ‘finding out.’ It better be good.”

Hale leaned against the archway over the community center front door. Was he in trouble? Was this serious? Should he talk to Mr. Rowley? Should he clue Lizzy in?

Lizzy watched him. “Well?”

It’s like this…”Hale started. Then he said flat out, “I can’t tell you what’s going on if you’re going to tell Mom. I made a promise and I want to keep my job. And my self-respect,” he added as an afterthought. He was on the spot and now he’d put Lizzy on the spot too. He wouldn’t lie to her, what good would that do? She wouldn’t lie to his mother. “This is what an ‘impass’ is,” he thought, Mrs. Japlonski’s face rising in his mind.

“Alright,” he said. Lizzy brightened. “I may be able to next week, but not now.” Her face fell. Mentally he had decided he should talk to Mr. Rowley. The 50-dollar bill and the receipt were burning a hole in his pocket. “The only thing I can think of to buy some time is that you haven’t been able to get me to be serious enough to answer Mom’s questions. That you will try again. Then I’ll avoid you until next week.”

“Well, that won’t be hard. I’ll start now.” Lizzy pulled a cigarette from the pack, lit it and blew a big puff of smoke at Hale.

“Hey! I thought you’d quit! You are a lizard, I swear.” Hale turned on his heel and disappeared into the community center, the sound of pickleball poing and whallop echoing out the door.

Lizzy took another deep drag and watched him go. Then started coughing on the smoke. Throwing the cigarette down and crushing it with her foot she thought, “Maybe I am really quitting smoking!”


Hale was not looking forward to appearing at Railroad Lumber with a fifty and a receipt in his pocket. Especially after the football guys had taken the trouble to visit his mom. So when Hale asked where Mr. Rowely had gotten to, the counter guys said that he was taking some vacation.

Hale made it a point to keep out of sight of the dock guys. Conveniently, a trailer truck-sized shipment of summer merchandise arrived all at once. Hale was hard pressed to keep up with the boxes of bug spray, rolls of netting, bags of fertilizer, pallets of plywood and wallboard, and all kinds of paint. Particularly, with Jake so-called helping. Hale kept having to undo Jake’s shelf displays as he would set them up in the wrong aisle. Jake would leave pallets half unpacked to go help at the registers and conveniently forget to come back and finish up.

But Hale got good at following the directions to set up the “dumps” — the stand-alone cardboard displays for specially-priced items like batteries or light bulbs.

One afternoon, he was frowning at printout instructions for a garden glove display, with a pile of cardboard pieces stacked in front of him.

“Insert Tab (A) on piece labeled “Front” into “Tab A” on piece labeled “Side B,” he read. “Repeat for B, C, and D, rotating each piece 90 degrees.”

“Hmmm…” Hale looked for Side B in the stack on the floor. A slight movement made his catch sight of a pair of Air Jordans, topped by some Levis, and finally a Cuttersville “Slashers” football hoodie.

“Uh-oh.” Hale sat back on his heels, looked up at the biggest of the dock guys, and waited.

“Kid, you in trouble.” It was that dock guy they called the Ref. “You wanna taste of gravel? Gra-vel. Get it? You keep playing with your sissy garden gloves and stay out of our way.” With that, the Ref kicked the pile of cardboard sending it skittering across the floor.

As the Ref (whose real name, Hale found out later, was Howard Ornstein) walked back toward the dock, he called back over his shoulder, “Ya got that, kid?” At that point, Hale decided on his course of action. Revenge. Just like that.


Hale was thoughtful on the bus ride back to Crawford. How did the dock guys find out about the $50 payoff? Did the red truck guy tip them off? Hale still had the $50 and the Amex receipt. He had thought it would be useful somehow. Maybe they were a liability now.

Or were they?

All along the obvious course had been to lay it all out for Mr. Rowley and let him take it from there. But when the Ref kicked over Hale’s cardboard dump, it became personal.

The other guys that worked at the dock followed the Ref like sheep. One of them reminded Hale of Farcus’s sidekick in that movie “A Christmas Story” — which his mom insisted on his watching. Every. Single. Year.

There was another guy, Norman, who was big, burly, and Black. Norman kept to himself; he didn’t hang out with the Ref or any the Ref’s entourage. When the Ref and his group went for coffee – if that’s where they went – Norman said he was going for a walk. No one ever argued with Norman or made him the butt of a joke. Hale wondered if Norman was in on the scam.


When Hale saw Norman near the dock, he tried to make eye contact giving him a nod. But he just looked past Hale like he wasn’t there. One time though, when Hale was sweeping out the dock before leaving for the day, Norman appeared in the doorway and stood watching.

Hale just kept on doing what he was doing. He figured if Norman was on the Ref’s payroll and was assigned to kick Hale’s butt, well, just let him try.

“Still got that $50?” Norman had a low voice that matched his build.

Hale said nothing.

Norman went on. “I know you got that $50 and why. And I know there’s some guys that are permanently pissed off about it.”

Hale gripped the broom and waited.

“I also know that being caught a fifty-dollar bill and a customer that would say you shook him down for it would get you in some deep trouble.”

Norman paused as if expecting Hale to say or do something. Hale felt like he was in a dream or a movie about gangland violence on Netflix. So he just waited.

Norman shrugged. “I was watching when the Ref tried to get you to fight. Saw how you just waited like you are now and the Ref got more and more crazy.”

“But let me tell you something.” Norman stepped closer to Hale who mentally braced for a punch. “If you think you want revenge, that’ll make you just like him.”

Norman stepped back, nodded at Hale and disappeared through the door. Big, quiet, thoughtful.

Hale leaned on his broom staring at the empty doorway. He was getting the same vibe from Norman that he got from the bald lady on the bus. They had a presence almost like a perfume that lingered after they were gone. What was that?

On the bus ride home Hale assessed what had just happened. Funny thing was he really didn’t have any particular reactions. Not anger or anxiety or fear or foreboding or even confidence. As if his quarter the lady monk dropped into the hopper those weeks ago had turned his world in another direction. It was like he was watching his own life on TV. As Hale got off the bus, there were his best friend Doug and his brother Palmer waiting for him. “We gotta talk,” Palmer said.


“You’ve been hiding from Doug and me all summer. Every Saturday you’re gone for hours — always at the same time, 9:30 to 3:30. We want answers.”

Doug added, “Palmer called me to ask if I knew what was going on. If I did and you swore me to secrecy, I wouldn’t tell. But you didn’t and I didn’t know. It’s just weird.”

Hale looked at his brother and his best friend staring at him, their faces serious. “I was gonna tell you Doug, but the bank heist thing got in the way.”

Doug looked confused.

“Remember that day in the park when I said I had a secret and told you about the mysterious meeting behind the bank? How I thought your dad was involved?”

“Oh, yeah. I won’t forget that in a hurry.”

“I also said that I had another secret, but I couldn’t tell you what that was. I guess I can tell you now.”

Ambling along, they had reached Crawford Lake. They flopped down on the grass and Palmer said, “Ok. then, shoot.”

Hale started slowly, telling how he had decided to get a job, just like that. “That was to be the secret, Doug, but now there’s more — a lot more.” Hale took a deep breath all his recent thoughts racing through his mind. Then he let it all go — Railroad Lumber, the red truck guy, the Ref, the bald lady on the bus, Norman, Mr. Rowley’s suspicions, the $50, the Amex receipt, Lizzy and the job application — everything.

“Egad!” Palmer said. He’d picked that up from the Dicken’s book he had to read over the summer.

Doug was thoughtful. He immediately understood the danger Hale was in keeping the $50 and the receipt. “You got to go to Mr. Rowley. You’ve got evidence but you need proof.”

“Yeah, we need actual proof that the dock guys are the ones running this, this…” Palmer searched for the right word.

“Scam,” Doug said.

“Yeah, scam. We need video proof! There must be security cameras. Show that to Mr. Rowley!”

“Not bad, Palmer.” Hale sprawled on his back and stared at the sky. “Those cameras are so fuzzy, you can’t see anything except shapes. If the yard cameras worked, Mr. Rowley would have found out already.”

Doug ventured, “Why don’t we hide in the yard like we did at the bank?” Doug paused then added, “but if it’s as buggy and itchy, I’ll vote no.”

Palmer was always looking for the tech solution. “How about a drone?”

Hale snorted. “What and have it hovering over the yard for all to see? You’d still need a camera on it. Who’s paying for this anyway?”

“You are, bonehead! You got the job!” Palmer rolled his eyes and sighed, then perked up. “What about Lizzy?”

“What about Lizzy?” Doug couldn’t figure how Hale and Palmer’s sister could fit into any scheme. She always seemed to be worried about damaging her nails.

“Get Lizzy to be the customer and have a camera in her car. She can make anyone do anything.”

“No, wait!” Doug said. “Get Lizzy to be the customer and we can hide in the yard and take pictures!”

“Not bad.” Hale acknowledged. “If we could get the name of the red truck guy, she could say that he ‘recommended’ the yard guys would help her.” Hale put air quotes around the word recommended.

Then Hale sat up, drew up his knees, and slumped over them. “Nah. Won’t work. I’d have to tell Lizzy the whole story and she’s promised to tell Mom.”

Palmer said, “If you’d been around the last couple Saturdays, you’d know that she has announced with much fanfare that she’s quit smoking. So, Dad gave her a hundred bucks.”

“You’re point being?”

“I saw her smoking outside the Safeway on Thursday,” Palmer continued. “I’ll tell her that I saw her and that I’ll tell Dad unless she doesn’t tell Mom about you.”

Doug shook his head. “You sure have a transactional family.”

“It could work. Might work. Lizzy’s tough. Is that enough pressure to make her do it?”

Palmer smirked. “Get this. Dad said he’ll take back the hundred if she’s ever caught smoking again.”

“Wow. That’s pressure. Now where do we stand?”

Doug summed it up, ticking the points off on his fingers. “One. Get a photo of the red truck and license plate. If we can get a photo of the guy even better. That will connect to the $50 Hale has and the Amex receipt.

“Two. Talk Lizzy into being a decoy. I mean, that’s what she’ll be!” Doug looked hard at the two brothers about to object.

Hale said, “Let’s not tell her that!”

Doug continued. “Three. Either video or photograph Lizzy giving the dock guy cash and getting extra items.

“Four. Turn in all the evidence to Mr. Rowley. Immediately. Hale, you’ve waited too long already.”

“I guess it’s a plan. I’ll talk to Lizzy-Pizzy.” Hale said.


When Hale finished explaining The Plan to Lizzy on the porch that evening, she said, “Well, you got me cornered, but you are in even bigger trouble. So, there’s nothing for me to do but straighten all this out.”

Hale bristled at the faint sound of condescension in her voice. “If you want me to tell Dad that Palmer saw you smoking…”

“Then I’ll tell Mom and Dad. Your fix is worse than mine! Though I’ll admit $100 would go towards the Dyson Supersonic I want.”

“What’s that?”

“A hair dryer. Costs five hundred.”

“Shew! You live large!”

They both fell quiet contemplating the idea of a $500 hair dryer—Lizzy wistfully, Hale incredulously.

Lizzy broke the silence.

“Your plan’s got major flaws of course. What stuff is stored outside in the yard?”

“Uh, peat moss, gravel, top soil…”

“How much does gravel cost?”

“Maybe six dollars a bag?”

“I need something more expensive than that. Something around $40 bucks.”

“What’s your plan?”

“What costs $20 or $40 dollars?”

Hale reviewed the layout of the yard in his mind. “Shingles, I think” he said.

“Shingles is a disease! Gramma had it, remember?”

“Different kind. Roofing shingles.”


“Yeah, ‘oh.’ Roofing shingles come in bundles 3 feet by 3 feet. I helped unload them last week. Heavy suckers.”

“They’re about $40 bucks?”

“Yeah. Think so.” Hale looked fixedly at his sister. “So what is your plan?”

“Just leave it to me. There’s some stuff I got to check into.”

“I got to trust you to do the thing?”

“Yeah. How about that? How about you stand down and let me work or I tell Mom what you just told me.”

Hale shook his head. “Man, you are tough.” He thought for a moment. “Uh, thanks…sister.”


The next week Hale was on high alert. He noticed if Lizzy came home late or left early. He didn’t usually care whether she was on the phone on not because she was always on the phone. But lately she was making short calls and would lower her voice if he was around. One time he overheard her say, “No. Not on Saturday.” Did that have to do with him, he wondered. “I’m getting paranoid,” he thought.

She ignored him completely. So much so that when Palmer told Hale she needed some money for the “thing,” as she called it, Hale said, “She can’t just ask me? She’s going through you now?”

Palmer was his stolid, straight-arrow self. “She doesn’t want to connect you to her plan – at all. Pretty nice of her. Good plan, too.”

“Come on! What plan? What is it? Palmer!”

“You don’t have anything on me, Hale. So back off.”

Hale grimaced. “I guess. Geeze, you guys.”

“Okay, then. She wants the $50 and the Amex receipt. Oh, and reimburse her for gas. And, um, $60 bucks for a pair of sunglasses she wants.”

“Sunglasses? For what? Are you serious? $60 for sunglasses?” Hale couldn’t decide which was more absurd, the costs of the sunglasses or why she wanted them for the thing. “I’m not giving up the receipt or the $50. Eighty bucks for gas? That’s just crazy.”

“Maybe,” Palmer said quietly, “you want the thing done or not?”

“I guess. Geeze.” Hale knew he was repeating himself, but else was there to say?

The next day Hale put $110 dollars of his earnings from Railroad Lumber in an envelope along with the $50 and the Amex receipt and gave it to Palmer to give to Lizzy. “Busy Lizzy.” He muttered under his breath.


Whatever Lizzy was doing, Hale was determined to find out who Red Truck was. He followed his usual routine of shelf-straightening and cardboard dump assembly all the while watching if the dock guys had a pattern of meeting certain customers, what times they decided to go for “coffee” (and come back smelling like marijuana), and who was who in the group.

There were five dock guys total though they weren’t all there at one time or, in fact, every Saturday that Hale was there. There was the Ref and Norman, Stickley, Joey Barnes, and a guy they called “Wolf.” They were all beefy and, except for Norman, who was the only Black guy, all loud and jokey with each other.

Hale would watch them closely making himself as invisible as possible. On Saturday, he was loitering near the dock and the red truck pulled up. “The red truck!” Hale exclaimed to himself and watched from the electrical wiring aisle.

“Hey, guys!’ Red Truck called out. Who’s gonna help me load some peat moss?”

“I’ll do it, Jim” called the Ref.

“Mr. Fetterman to you, bub! Ha, ha!” was the reply. “Hop in!” Red Truck, now Jim Fetterman, opened the passenger door and the Ref climbed in.

Hale almost felt faint from this stroke of good luck. He gently edged his way back down the electrical aisle towards the counter and made himself very busy reorganizing the GFI outlets which got mixed in with the 15v/20amp household ones. Then suddenly he thought, I need to get a pic of the truck and the license plate number. He dashed to the front of the store and out into the parking lot. The red truck was just pulling around the side of the building. He pretended he was dialing his phone and caught a perfect shot. He turned back to the store just as the truck pulled out into traffic.

“What was that all about?” It was Jake standing in the doorway. “You go rushing through the store like it was on fire.”

“I thought I saw a friend and wanted to catch up with him.” The excuse was so unlikely Hale was surprised that Jake just nodded and went back inside saying over his shoulder, “Better finish up in Electrical, then go, Hale. It’s almost 2 o’clock.”


Lizzy had a general idea of what it would take to get the evidence Hale needed. It was the specifics that she was wrestling with. She was wishing she had a cigarette to keep her thoughts company, when Hale flopped down beside her on the porch swing. She looked at Hale’s slouch and said, “If you’d sit up straight, you wouldn’t be so round-shouldered.”

“Are you my mother or my sister?”

Lizzy didn’t bother to take the bait. “What kind of stuff do they sell out in the yard?”

“Gravel, of course. Peat moss in bales, pavers. And lumber.”

“Which items are the furthest from the dock?”

Hale visualized the yard from the dock. “Bulk topsoil, bulk mulch—”

“That won’t work.”

“Ahem. Don’t interrupt. Roofing stuff like downspouts, gutters, shingles — roofing shingles to you.”

Lizzy pretended she was having a smoke. Breathing in through her mouth and out through her nose. Thinking about The Plan. They both sat for a bit.

Then Hale said, “I got his name and license plate number.”

“Name’s good. License plate, not so much.”

“Can’t you look up someone’s address from their license plate number?”

“Nope. But name’s good. What is it?”

“Jim Fetterman.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope. Name’s good, huh?”

“Yep.” Lizzy pulled out her phone and started tapping furiously.

Hale watched smirking, “How can you even use that thing with those nails?”

“I’m good, that’s how. Now be quiet. Hey, Chris. Lizzy Eddy. Yeah, hi. You going to chemistry class today? I need to talk to you about something. Nah, it’s no big deal. Yeah, okay. See you at class.”

Lizzy tossed her phone aside. “Alright. Operation ‘Catch ‘em’ is under way.”


Chris was waiting outside for Lizzy after class. “What’s up, Liz?”

“There you are. I was looking for you.”

“Here now. What’s up?”

“My brother’s got himself in a bunch of trouble and you can help me get him out.”

“Huh? Me? How?”

“You live in Cuttersville, right?” Lizzy added, “And you drive a pickup.”

“Yeah. So?”

“I need a pickup and a muscular guy who’s ready to do me a big favor to help out my brother, who’s an idiot.”

“Sure.” Sarcastically, “Sounds like great fun. What do I have to do?”

“You and me drive to Railroad Lumber in Cuttersville and buy some roofing shingles.”

“You need roofing shingles, Liz?”

Lizzy sighed. “Follow me closely on this, Chris. We pull around to the back to where the roofing shingles are and you get out to help the dock guy – not the Black dude, remember that – load the roofing shingles. You offer the dock guy $50 –”

“Fifty bucks! What for?”

“I’m getting to that. You offer the dock guy $50 to let you load two extra bundles. Now, this is important: You say that Jim Fetterman —”

“That’s my uncle! You knew he was my uncle?”

“Your last name’s Fetterman and you live in Cuttersville. What’s to know? Anyway, that Jim Fetterman specifically recommended Railroad Lumber. ‘Recommended.’ That’s the keyword. Got it?”

“Who’s paying for all these shingles?”

“That’s your only question? We’re getting my brother out of trouble, remember? Whatever it takes. You’re going to pay cash – my cash – at the counter. Does that help at all?

“Then, after you get the load, we drive around to the front of the store and we ask for Mr. Rowley. We show him the receipt, the extra bundles, and the video I’ll be taking video of the whole thing.”


It wasn’t that Chris didn’t like Lizzy Eddy. But she was tough. Saw everything only from her point of view. Bossy and opinionated. But he was attracted to her in some peculiar way. Maybe it was her self-assurance. Her independence. He couldn’t tell but he thought it would be a good idea to hold up his end of The Plan.

“I should be memorizing the steps necessary to avoid the dilution of a neutralization,” he thought typing “roofing shingles” into Google search that night. “Cosmetology will have to wait.”

Apparently, roofing shingles were sold in “bundles.” To roof over a 12×12 shed (that was the project Chris decided he was shopping for) he would need three bundles. According to the Wikihow calculator, he’d need another 2 bundles for 10 percent waste. Further research showed that a bundle could weigh between 40 and 60 pounds.

“No wonder she wanted a muscular guy.” Chris mused.


That night Lizzy pulled Hale aside. “Listen. Call Railroad Lumber and ask when Mr. Rowley will be in next.”

“Why? What’s going on? You mess up my job…”

“Your job’s already messed up and you did it yourself. Just ask.”

Hale texted Lizzy the next day. “He’s in all week.”


Lizzy chose a Wednesday after class to implement the plan. She had Chris park next to her in the lot and she slipped into the passenger seat as he started the truck.

“Nice truck. Remember The Plan?”

“Yeah. Don’t know why I’m doing this for you or your brother.” He pulled out a cigarette and lit it from the dash lighter.

“Oooo, that smells good.” Lizzy said. “Um, can I have a puff?”

“Here.” Chris passed the smoke over.

Lizzy inhaled deeply. And started to cough. And cough. She rolled down the window and let fresh air blow on her face. And coughed. “Oh, man. Now I feel light headed!”

“Hah. I sense I’m in the company of a former smoker. Never would have thought it of ya, Liz.”

“I guess you’re right.” She took another deep breath out the window. “Blah. Now I have a headache and my mouth tastes awful. Great.”

As they were riding along, Lizzy shook out her hair, added lipstick and miraculously applied false eyelashes as the truck bumped along.

“Turning on the charm, eh?” Chris commented.

“You drive.” Was the answer.

Lizzy waited in the truck as Chris when into Railroad Lumber.

Once inside, he headed for the counter. He picked out a counter man with Jake embroidered on his shirt. “Lookin’ for some shingles.”

“Howdy! Know how much you need? We have a sale going on for Timberlines. Incombustible fiberglass base. Highest fire and wind protection. Thermally-activated self-sealing system. Looks like an expensive wood shingle roof.”

“Sounds good.”

“Nine in-stock colors. Sale price $32.00 a bundle. Need to calculate how much you need. Be sure to account for waste.”

“I got a 12 by 12 shed. I’m thinking a grey color.”

Jake tapped at his calculator. “Looks like you’ll need five bundles including the extra for waste.” He tapped some more. “32 times 5, add tax…you picking up or do we deliver?”

“Picking up.” Chris was starting to get anxious. This was taking too long for his comfort. He hated lying or playing games. Jake interrupted his reverie.

“We got three shades of grey. Come this way and let’s look at some samples.” Following Jake, Chris found himself staring at a display of shingle shades. “How did I ever get into this?” He thought. Then he started to get into it, prompted by his training in hair coloring. There was Slate and Charcoal. That was to be expected. But “Birchwood”? “Mission Brown” was sort of grey. Then he pivoted entirely and chose “Hickory.”

“That ain’t grey, if you don’t mind my sayin’” Jake offered.

“Doesn’t matter—uh,” Chris caught himself. “This will work better. Thanks for your help.”

“Okay, then. I’ll write up the order. You pay at the register and go ‘round to the dock and one of the boys’ll help you load up.”

“At last!” Chris thought following Jake back to the counter. “Now onto the real reason I’m here.”


Lizzy thought she would completely lose her mind. Chris has been in the store for hours it seemed. Maybe something went wrong. Maybe they guessed he was faking it. Maybe he didn’t have enough cash. “Maybe I really wish I had a cigarette!” she moaned to herself.

She squirmed in the passenger seat trying to calm herself down. “Better check my phone,” she thought. She silenced the ringer and checked the battery life. Switched to the camera and set it to video and shot at the front of Railroad Lumber. Then she swiveled around and practiced shooting out the truck back window, keeping the phone’s camera low and out of sight as much as possible. She switched to ultrawide and shot again. And got the whole expanse of the parking lot out the back window. “Hmm. This might just do it.”

She swung back for another shot of the front of the store just when Chris emerged, receipt in hand. Looking directly at the camera, he gave her a thumbs up.

They pulled around the back and Chris gave the receipt to a beefy-looking guy. “Shingles,” the Ref said. That’ll be in the back corner,” he gestured. “Over there.”

The Ref made to open the passenger door and get in when Chris said, “Hey, the girlfriend’s with me, Better meet up back there.” Lizzy scooted up next to Chris. “Don’t make him walk all that way,” she crooned, “It’s way too hot. There’s room for one more.” She smiled at the Ref, held her finger-nailed hand to her mouth and gave the Ref a side-eye and a slow motion wink. The Ref swallowed and got up into the truck.

They bounced along the dirt track to the back of the yard. Chris calculating the best angle to park the truck for Lizzy’s camera shot. Lizzy was subtly wiggling in her seat crossing and adjusting her legs all the while smiling dewily at the Ref who was beginning to sweat a bit.

“It’s is hot isn’t it?” she said.

“Yeah” was about the best the Ref could manage.

“Which way?” Chris broke the silence.

“Left at peat moss and shingles are on the right.”

Chris pulled up trying to decide when he should invoke the magic words “recommended.” He and the Ref were alone outside loading the shingles when he said, “Jim Fetterman recommended working with you. Wanted to let you know that.”

“Oh really?” the Ref was rearranging the pile of shingles to get to the Hickory shade. “Jim’s a good guy. You wanted Hickory, right? Not too many people get Hickory. Mostly gray. Here we are.” The Ref started piling up shingle bundles to move to the truck bed. Chris eyed the back window of the truck and adjusted his position so both he and the Ref were in view.

Chris realized maybe “recommended” wasn’t the magic word after all. The Ref was not taking the bait. He swallowed. If what he was to say next would come back to bite him so be it. At the same time, he realized he must like Lizzy Eddy a lot to be doing this.

“Jim Fetterman’s my uncle,” he said.

The Ref dropped a 40 pound bundle of shingles and stood like a statue.

“Oh, that kind of recommended.” The Ref thought a bit. “How many extra bundles do you need?”

Chris didn’t have the faintest idea. It was all he could do to not turn his head towards Lizzy in the truck for guidance. Then he heard her calling from the truck.

“Come on guys, we got to be in Sanford by FIVE o’clock.”

Just the way she said five told Chris what to do.

“I’ll need an extra five bundles.”

“Make it three and you have a deal.” The Ref countered.

Chris counted bundles in his head. He had totally bought into the idea he was building a shed. An extra three plus the five in his order…”That’ll do it.”

Together they loaded the truck with Chris making as sure as he could to stay out of the way to show there were more bundles being loaded than he had paid for.

At last, Chris turned to the Ref and said, “Thanks, man. Much appreciated.” He took out his wallet and carefully extracted the fifty-dollar bill. Flipping the ends up either side of his index finger, he offered the bill to the Ref.

The Ref’s eyes widened. “Thanks, man!” He took the bill, stuffed it into the watch pocket on his Levi’s, and started walking back to the dock.

“Bye!” Lizzy’s voice floated out of the open truck window. The Ref kept on walking.

Chris’s knees were a bit weak, but he wasn’t about to tell Lizzy. Instead, he got into the truck and said, “Let’s get this over with.”

“But first, get this. fella. Don’t call me “girlfriend” unless you mean it. You hear me?”

They bumped down the dirt track in silence emerging in the front parking lot of Railroad Lumber.

“You got the receipt?”

Chris’s heart stopped briefly. “He’s got it!”

“Shrewd move, dude. I, on the other hand, got great video. Everything.”

“Lady, it’s like I said,” Chris got out of the truck. “Let’s get this over with.”

They entered the store together.

“Hey, Jake!” Chris called out. “Thanks for your help! Mr. Rowley around?”

Lizzy muttered under her breath. “Come on, Chris! Play acting’s over!”

Chris muttered back, “Hey, I took the risk.”

“It’s not over yet and we’re both in it,” she muttered back.

“Something wrong?” Jake looked worried.

Chris couldn’t think of a single thing to say. The silence stretched out.

Finally, Lizzy said, “I’m Hale’s sister. Wanted to introduce myself.”

“Oh, that’s okay, then!” Jake was relieved. Bert Rowley had been on his case lately and he didn’t want any more grief. “That’s his office there,” he said pointing to a closed door.

Lizzy knocked and without waiting for an answer opened the door. She and Chris entered and stood in front of Rowley who was on the phone.

“Look, I ordered ten pallets and I got six. You make me pay 50% down and I got 60% of my order. Therefore, I owe you 10% and we’re clear — unless you can guarantee four pallets by the end of the week — what do you want? No not you, Bill, there’s two people just came into my office,” Rowley glared at Chris and Lizzy, “without knocking. Just barged in. Right. Call me in an hour.” Rowley slammed the phone down. “What the hell do you want?”

Lizzy had the capacity, maybe annealed through the rough and tumble of Eddy family life, to remain calm in the face of anger, bullying, noise, emergencies, and general stress.

“I’m Hale’s sister,” she said simply. “And I want to report a theft.”

Rowley looked hard at Lizzy looking for a clue what this was all about. He leaned by in his chair. “Go on.”

“My friend and I just purchased some roofing shingles. Five bundles, right, Chris?” Chris nodded dumbly.

“We went around the back to the yard to pick them up. We were helped by one of the guys from the dock. When my friend indicated he was aware that some cash would get him additional merchandise, the dock person actually bargained with him, loaded extra shingles and accepted $50 in return. The dock person has the receipt for five bundles. We have the three additional bundles in the truck outside.”

Lizzy waited for a response. Not getting one, she concluded, “And I have a video of the whole thing.”


Hale was sitting on the porch swing after dinner. It was hot, hot. “Not a breath of air” as his mother would say. Whatever that meant.

Lizzy came out and sat next to him. “This is when I used to light up, inhale, and just relax and let go.”

Hale looked at her out of the corner of his eye. “You don’t smell as bad as you used to.”

“And you don’t have beefy guys hunting you like you used to.”

“Yeah. They’ve all been fired. Except Norman. He quit. Going to Howard in the fall.”

“Who’s running the dock?”

“The counter guys have to take turns. Ha.” Hale looked at the tips of his sneakers for inspiration. “And I, I got fired, too.”

“What! You uncovered the whole scam!”

“Yeah. But when I didn’t tell Mr. Rowley right away like he asked, it looked like I was in on the scam.” Hale paused. “Still having the receipt and the $50 and all,” he added lamely. Mr. Rowley explained that it didn’t look good to keep me on when the other guys were fired for doing what it appeared I had done. Even though I was being a detective for him.”

“That sucks, Hale.”

Hale sighed. “It’s not so bad. Summer’s almost over anyway. I’ll pick up my last check tomorrow. Mr. Rowley said he’d give me a recommendation if I wanted another job. Just between us.”

“You’re different somehow, Hale.”

“So are you.”

“Yea. Not smoking is really different. I feel cleaner. But I think your job changed you somehow.”

“It wasn’t the job. It was that guy Norman. And the lady on the bus the first day. I learned how to…just wait.

“Hold it. I got a text.” Lizzy held up a finger, looked at her phone, smiled, and stared off into space. The message said: “Hi, girlfriend. And I mean it.”

“Able to just wait. Like now. Never was able to do that before. I think Norman and the lady on the bus had this presence almost like a perfume. The kind that lingers after someone goes away. What is that?”

Lizzy looked up from her phone. “What? What is what?”

“Geeze, Lizzard. You may smell good, but your brain is mud. Solid mud.” Hale got up. “See you later.”


On Saturday, Hale sat on the bus to Cuttersville to pick up his paycheck at Railroad Lumber. He stared out the window somehow feeling sad that his summer adventure was coming to an end. Then he perked up remembering that his dad still didn’t know anything about it, his mom had stopped asking what was going on, he was doing stuff with Doug again, and Palmer was so in awe of Lizzy’s plan he was leaving Hale alone for once.

He’d kinda hoped on his last trip maybe he’d see the bald lady again. But here he was at the bus terminal and she hadn’t gotten on.

After the bus pulled in, Hale started for Dunkin Donuts then changed his mind. He just stood after the bus emptied watching the bus in the next gate start to depart. A movement caught his eye. Someone was waving from one of the windows. He stared. It was the bald lady. Waving at him. He grinned and waved back wildly. The bus pulled out and disappeared down the ramp.

Still smiling, Hale turned and headed for Railroad Lumber. Just like that.

*The Bank Heist, an Eddy and McClure story

Story by Caroline Meyers, ©2022

Photo 30976743 © Jeff Ferguson |