The Lesson

Frank couldn’t believe his eyes on Monday morning.  He trudged out to the nativity with snow up to his kneecaps and streams of breath puffing from his mouth and stood there in disbelief.  Someone had ransacked the nativity!  Everything was in disarray. 

Mary lay upon the manger as if she had been trying to protect her precious babe.  Joseph was leaning against the stable wall, as if he had been too drunk to stand and too sober to fall.  The three wise men had been knocked over like bowling pins and the carefully arranged animals were scattered about as if they were trying to escape the carnage.  Frank started to right Mary when he spotted something in the manger.

The righting of Mary was forgotten as Frank bent over to have a better look.  He let out a gasp of shock when he realized what exactly was draped on the babe.  “Dear God, a Red Sox blanket!” Frank whispered in horror.  Snatching the blanket off the babe, Frank hurried over to the one place he knew could help him.    

“What the hell, Frank!” Abe snapped when Frank burst through the police station doors.  “You scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry, Abe,” Frank said as he rushed to the counter.  “But a crime has been committed.”

That announcement got just the reaction Frank was hoping for.  Abe dropped his book of word jumbles, ripped open his desk drawer and pulled out a gun.

“What the hell . . .er . . . I mean, what the heck are you doing, Abe?”

“You said a crime has been committed,” Abe replied in a reasonable voice.  He didn’t spare a glance in Frank’s direction.  He was too busying snapping a clip of bullets into his gun.   “As far as I know, there’s never been a crime committed that a gun hasn’t been needed.”

Ben, the police chief, hearing the commotion in the lobby, walked out of his office.  He took one look at Abe with the gun in his hand and let out a sigh.  “What’s going on?”

“A crime has been committed!” Abe informed him.

“That’s right!” Frank said swinging his attention to Ben.  “Someone came during the dead of night and covered baby Jesus in this!” Frank slapped the offending blanket on the counter.

Both Abe and Ben stared at the fluffy fleece blanket.  Abe was the first to break the silence.  “Good God, who hates Jesus!”

“Oh, for goodness sake, it’s just a blanket,” Ben said, exasperated.

“A blanket?  That’s not a blanket!” Abe snapped pointing to the offensive blanket.  “That’s a hate crime!  We need to find the felon and arrest him!”

“Now just calm down,” Ben said.  “It’s not a hate crime and it’s certainly not worthy of an arrest.  It’s just a blanket and nothing more.  Toss it out and be done with it.”

“Be done with it?” Abe cried out in disbelief.  “That’s a Red Sox’s blanket!  How can we be done with it?  Someone not only desecrated out Lord but has insulted the town to boot.  I don’t know about you, but I think we need to do something about this outrage!”

Ben let out a resigned sigh.  “And just what exactly should we to do?”

Abe had a ready answer.  “I say we create a stakeout, nab the perp, haul him into Judge Wingold’s chambers then send him to the fryer!”

“Are you planning to arrest a person or eat a chicken?” Ben asked.

Abe’s bushy grey brows snapped down.  “Oh sure.  Laugh all you want but this is serious!  We have all these out-of-towners coming here and they’re ruining this place!  Why just last week Elliot Nussbaum told me someone snuck into his yard in the middle of the night and snatched his inflatable snowman.  When it was finally found, the poor snowman had been caught on the muffler of Margie Wilson’s Cadillac and was dragged all the way to her house,” Abe huffed. 

“Now why would someone from out-of-town steal Elliot’s snowman?” Ben wondered.

“Don’t you get it?  They’re trying to ruin our Christmas,” Abe retorted. 

“They’re doing nothing of the sort,” Ben snapped.  “They’re here to enjoy the holidays just like the rest of us.”  He shot another glance at the blanket.  “They could have better taste though,” he said as he strode into his office.

Abe waited for Ben’s door to shut before he said, “If Ben think’s I’m going to let this go, he’s wrong.  We’re not a part of the ‘Red Sox’ nation.  We bleed blue here like true Yankee fans!”

“What are you doing?” Frank asked when Abe pulled a pad of paper from his desk drawer.

“Filing a complaint with the union,” Abe replied as he scribbled on his notepad.  “The way I see it, a crime has been committed and Ben’s doing nothing about it.  That’s dereliction of duties, if you ask me.”  When he was finished, he tucked the pad back into his desk drawer then stood up.  He grabbed his coat from the rack, put it on, saying, “Come on.  Let’s nab us a felon.”   

Abe and Frank walked back to the nativity scene.  They looked at the mess the vandals made.  Intermixed with the chaos was an empty bag of chips, a rotten banana peel, and something that looked suspiciously like the bones of a fish. 

“How are we ever going to find out who did this?” Frank asked.

“We’re gonna do exactly what I told Ben we should do,” Abe replied.  “We’re gonna do a stakeout.”

“A stakeout?” Frank asked worriedly.

“Yup.  That’s right,” Abe returned.  “We’re gonna stay in the car all night if we have to just to find the culprit who did this!”

Suddenly, Frank wished he hadn’t walked out to the nativity scene and he certainly wished he hadn’t gone to the police station.  There was nothing he could do about it now, though.  Abe was determined to find the person who committed such an atrocious act, which meant Frank had to be just as determined. 

Abe arrived just before sunset.  His car was loaded down with all sorts of things he deemed necessary for the stakeout.  Two heavy sleeping bags were rolled up in the back seat right next to a large paper bag and a black nylon duffle bag.

“What’s in the paper bag?” Frank asked as he slid into the front passenger seat.

“It’s for later tonight,” Abe replied as he reached into the backseat and grabbed the bag.  He pulled each item out of the bag, showing them to Frank.  “We’ve got some chips, Ho Ho’s and Ding Dong’s, two bags of cookies, a six pack of soda, a can of that cheese spray to go with the crackers, a dozen of Dainty’s Donuts, two thermoses of Betty’s coffee and . . .”

“That’s all junk food!” Frank said.  “Don’t you have anything healthy in there? You know, like fruits or vegetables?”

Frank held up a yellow bag.  “Of course, there are vegetables.  These are Funyuns!  Onion is right there in the name!” Frank exclaimed.  “And what about this?  This is spray cheese.  It’s protein!  Jeez, you’d think you’d know this stuff.”

Frank opened his mouth to reply then snapped it shut.  There was no point in stating the obvious.   “What’s in the duffle bag?  More ‘healthy food’?”

“No . . .” Abe said giving Frank a sharp look.  He returned the bag to the back seat then hauled the black nylon duffel bag to the front seat.  “Now in here, we’ve got all the things needed for a proper stake out.  There’s your professional grade stun gun, some night vision goggles, a couple pairs of handcuffs . . .”

Frank glanced in the back seat then let out a gasp.  “Is that a semi-automatic rifle?”

“It sure is,” Abe replied proudly as he grabbed the rifle and brought it to the front seat.  “We’re not letting these hooligans get away.”

“Shouldn’t we just use the handcuffs and take them to the police station?”

“Sure, but what if the troublemaker causes us problems?” Abe asked.  “We’ll need to have backup and this here,” Abe added with a pat to his rifle. “Is backup.”

Frank wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of shooting anyone over a Red Sox’s blanket but seeing as he had never dealt with criminals and Abe had, he decided he’d defer to the professional.  Instead, he opened his bible to read, only he couldn’t focus on the words.  It was just too darn hot in the car to do anything but sweat.

When he couldn’t take the heat any longer, Frank snapped his bible shut and said, “I think we should turn off the heater”

“No can do, Suzie Q,” Abe replied.  “The cold makes my bones hurt.”

“But I’m sweating!” Frank complained.

Abe frowned.  “Well, then open the window a crack.” Abe gave Frank a hard look as he added, “But just a crack.”

Frank wasn’t about to complain.  But he did open it a bit more than a crack.  Blessedly cool air blew into the car.  Frank let out a sigh of relief as he picked up his bible and began to read this week’s sermon again.  He had barely gotten through the first passage when Abe intruded into his thoughts.  

“What are you doing?” Abe asked.

Frank looked up from the bible.  “What was that?”

“I asked what you were doing,” Abe repeated.

“I’m preparing for Sunday’s sermon.”

“You know what?” Abe began.  “You should do your sermon about the whole eye for an eye thing.”

Frank’s attention snapped from the bible to Abe.  “We don’t preach about an eye for an eye.  We preach about forgiveness.”

A look of irritation crossed Abe’s face.  “What good is that?  Nobody learns from forgiveness.  You’ve got to do the whole eye for an eye thing . . .”

Frank ignored Abe’s suggestion and continued to read.  A few minutes later, Abe interrupted Frank’s thoughts once again.  “I’m hungry.”

“What?” Frank asked.

“I said, I’m hungry,” Abe repeated. 

“So, eat some of the snacks,” Frank replied without looking up. 

“Those are for later,” Abe replied.  “Let’s go to Papa’s for a slice of pizza.”

Frank’s stomach rumbled at Abe’s suggestion.  A slice of hot, cheesy pizza sounded good right now.  “What about the vandals?” Frank asked snapping the bible shut.    

Abe glanced at his watch.  It was barely eight o’clock.  “It’s too early.  There’s too many people out for anything to happen.  The perps probably won’t show up until after midnight.”

They were wrong.  They knew it the minute they stepped out of the pizza parlor and saw the destruction in front of the church. 

“I don’t believe this!” Abe said as he threw up his hands in outrage.  “How the hell did they get the snacks?”

It didn’t take them any time at all to figure out the answer to that question.  Abe swung his hot glare in Frank’s direction.  “You left the car window open!  Why did you do that?”

Sheepishly, Frank shrugged.  “I forgot.”

Abe wasn’t paying him any attention though.  He had spotted something yellow lying on in the mound of snow.   “Is that my bag of Funyuns?” Abe asked as he snatched the bag from the ground.  He tipped it over, frowning.  “They ate every damn one of them!”

They didn’t just eat the Funyuns.  They ripped open the box of Ho Ho’s and Ding Dong’s and ate every bit of them.  They finished off the bag of pretzels and the chips too.  But the worst offense, in Abe’s opinion, was the theft of the powdered donuts.

“Are you kidding me!” Abe burst out, waving the empty box in the air.  White powdered sugar flew about mingling with the snow.  “What are these guys?  Animals?”

“Maybe they’re homeless and this is all the food they have?” Frank suggested, an image of the needy family flashing through his thoughts.

Abe rolled his eyes.  “Now don’t get all Christian on me,” Abe grumbled.  “We’re not here to help the needy we’re here to protect that plastic baby Jesus!”  Abe snapped, pointing to the manger scene. 

Ben’s Jeep pulled up next to Abe’s car just then.  “Abe, what’s going on?”

Abe considered lying then immediately dismissed the idea.  This was his boss and the police chief, after all.  There’s no telling what would happen if he was caught lying.  Abe sighed.  “Well, if you must know, we’re doing a stakeout.”

Ben was certain he hadn’t heard Abe correctly.  “What?”

“A stakeout,” Abe repeated.  “For this.  Remember?” Abe snapped, waving the Red Sox’s blanket in the air as a reminder.

Ben had completely forgotten about the blanket.  “Abe, have you lost your mind?”

“I don’t think I have,” Abe shot back.  “I plan on catching these felons.”

A burst of laughter erupted from Ben as he scanned the trash-filled area.  “Doesn’t look like you’re doing a very good job of it.”

Abe’s brows snapped downward.  “Laugh all you want, funny man! But this here is serious business!”

Ben was about to comment when his gaze landed on the front seat of Abe’s car.  The muscle flexed in his cheek.  “Abe, what the hell are you going to do with an M4 rifle?”

“I’m doing what I was sworn to do,” Abe retorted.  “I’m upholding the law.”

“I don’t think your oath meant shooting someone over a Red Sox’s blanket,” Ben replied in a dry voice.

“Yeah, well, we have no idea what these thugs are up to,” Abe shot back.  “For all we know, they could be out to harm someone and I’m not going to stand around and let that happen.”

“The only person who’s gonna harm anyone, is you,” Ben retorted.  He held out his hand.  “Give it to me.”

“What?” Abe cried out.

“It’s police property to be used for police situations.” Ben’s gaze flicked to the nativity scene then back to Abe.  “And this is not a police situation.”

“I don’t see how I’m gonna teach these guys a lesson if I don’t have the gun,” Abe grumbled as he reached into the backseat. 

He was just about to hand over the gun when a noise sounded somewhere near the nativity scene.  Abe spun about to see what was happening.  Just then, a flurry of movement was spotted near the manger.  Abe burst into action.  He pointed the rifle at the stable. 

“I’ll teach you for putting a Red Sox’s blanket on baby Jesus!” Abe yelled as he cocked the rifle.  “Everyone knows Jesus is a Yankee’s fan!”

A loud blast and a flash of light erupted from the gun.  The sound of a bullet zipping through the air could be heard just a second before a loud explosion broke the silence of the night.  As the smoke cleared, everyone stared in disbelief as the vandal, unharmed, scurried away with a powdered donut in his mouth.  And there lying upon the ground, was Mary, the mother of God, a bullet shattering her in two.

A rumble of laughter sounded from Ben.  “Well, I’ve got to admit, Abe, you really taught that raccoon a lesson,” Ben said before turning to Frank.  “I think you’re gonna need to get another Mary, though.”


Holiday Lights

Maybelline had big plans. She was going to enter the Aberdeen Explosion of Lights contest this year. Not only was she going to enter but she was going to win!

She knew it wouldn’t be easy. After all, she’d entered the contest for six years straight and not once had she won. Why, she hadn’t even been named honorable mention.  But this year, that was all gonna change. By the time this contest was over, she, Maybelline Marlene Jordan, was going to be the talk of the town!

It took a full week to get her landlord, Mrs. Tindrow to agree to Maybelline’s plan.  She found a distributor in some tiny town from some tiny country she’d never heard of.  She placed her order then waited patiently for the decorations to arrive. She waited a full week and when her order still hadn’t come in, Maybelline’s patience was gone.

She called the distributor every day for a whole week.  By the end of the second week she was on a first name basis with him. She also had a restraining order placed on her. Why the man was so touchy about her calling him was beyond Maybelline. She supposed it probably had something to do with her threatening him. Clearly, he didn’t understand a bluff when he heard one. Like she could get the U.S. Government to bomb his country. When the FedEx truck pulled into Mrs. Tindrow’s driveway a scant week before the contest, Maybelline could barely contain her excitement. She grabbed her plans, ripped open the boxes and started to decorated.

Maybelline hadn’t planned on telling anyone about the contest. After all, she couldn’t take the chance of her ideas being stolen. However, when her best friend April stopped by, Maybelline had no choice. What possible excuse could she make when she was surrounded by a herd of mechanical reindeer, three angry polar bears and a ten foot tall faux fur covered abominable snowman.

“Don’t tell me you’re decorating for the Aberdeen Explosion of Lights contest?” April exclaimed in exasperation.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Maybelline scoffed.

“Don’t lie to me, Maybelline Jordan.” April pointed an accusing finger at Maybelline. “I’m not dumb you know! You’ve got boxes and boxes and boxes of decorations strewn about! And what about that Candyland house over there? Did you think I wouldn’t notice it?”

“It’s not a Candyland house,” Maybelline sniffed. “It’s a gingerbread house . . .for Mrs. Claus.”

“Whatever,” April replied. “The fact is, you’re decorating.”

Maybelline threw up her hands. “Okay fine! I am decorating for the Explosion of Lights! But I don’t want anyone to know.” She dropped the strands of lights she’d been trying to untangle as a thought came to her. “You wanna help me?”

April dusted off the snow from the edge of the porch then plopped down on the ice cold deck. “I don’t think so. I’ve got things to do today.”

“Oh really? Like what?” Maybelline asked.

“I’m going to go to Albany to find a dress for the Winter Festival Dance. I thought you’d like to join me.”

Maybelline frowned. She did need a dress for the dance. If only her decorations had arrived last week!

“I can’t. And now neither can you. You have to help me,” Maybelline said, picking up the lights once again and held them out to April.

“But I don’t want to help you!”

“You don’t have a choice,” Maybelline explained. “It’s like the whole military secret thing. I’m either going to have to kill you or you’re going to have to help me. Seeing as I’m not in the mood to kill you today, you’re going to help me.”

“I’d rather you just kill me,” April replied snatching the lights out of Maybelline’s hand. “What in that box over there?”

A big smile crossed Maybelline’s face as she looked at the wooden box. “Oh, that’s my coup de grace,” Maybelline announced proudly. “They’re enhanced sparklers.”

“You mean like fireworks?”

“Of course not. They’re illegal. These are just flashing lights but I really think they will put me over the top!”

“If they’re just flashing lights, how come the box has skulls and crossbones on it?”

Maybelline shrugged. “Oh, you know how these companies are, they’ll do anything to make something seem exciting.”

It took the women all weekend and every night during the week to get all the decorations up. By the day of the big contest Maybelline was exhausted. But the house, yard and a good portion of the front part of the street was completely decorated and if you asked her, the place looked spectacular.

She placed the herd of mechanical reindeer in the side yard. Polar bears withe glowing blue eyes sat in front of the house, and a red and white candy cane lane led to Mrs. Claus’ house. The abominable snowman with Yukon Cornelius next to him, stood near the sidewalk. Santa and his reindeer were perched atop of Mrs. Tindrow’s roof. It had been no easy feat putting the jolly old elf, his sleigh and reindeer up there. April had fallen off the ladder and nearly broke her ankle in the process and Maybelline had broken three fingernails. Miles and miles of ribbon, lights and garland hung from every conceivable limb, shrub, branch and tree in the yard. Maybelline had taken her time placing the enhanced sparklers around the place. She put two atop the roof, three around the sides of the house and the rest she sprinkled here and there for effects.

April hurried over to Maybelline’s house just before the start of the contest. Maybelline frowned when she saw her. “What the heck are you doing?” Maybelline demanded.

“What? I thought this was cute. It matches the theme!” April said as she looked down at her Mrs. Claus’ costume.

“No! It matches me!” Maybelline snapped. “I was going to be Mrs. Claus! We can’t have two Mrs. Claus’. We’ll look ridiculous.”

April threw her hands up in the air. “Fine. Do you want me to go home and change?”

Maybelline let out an exaggerated sigh. “No. I’ll change . . .” Maybelline grudgingly walked into her bedroom. When she came out a few minutes later, April burst out laughing. Maybelline’s brows snapped downward. “Just what do you think is so funny?” Maybelline demanded as she tugged on the far too small top.

“You look like an overstuffed green crayon!”

What did April expect? Of course she looked like a green crayon! She was dressed as an elf. And she wasn’t even close to a size two like April.

“I’ll have you know this was the costume I bought for you!” Maybelline grumbled as she marched out down the steps and to the front of the house. She came to an abrupt stop when she saw her decorations. “What the heck! The abominable snowman is grey!” She looked around at the dirty snow. “Jeez, you can’t keep anything white in this town!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have put him so close to the street?” April offered. “Then he wouldn’t have been splashed by passing cars.”

“I had too,” Maybelline retorted. “When I put him next to the house, Mrs. Tindrow nearly had a heart attack. It’s not like she was expecting a ten foot, hairy white monster to be looking in her window at five in the morning.”

“So, when are we going to light this place up?” April asked.

Maybelline looked down the street. No one was approaching yet. “I’m waiting until the committee shows up. No one is going to see the extravaganza until then.”

And wait they did. For what seemed like forever, Maybelline and April paced the sidewalk waiting for the Aberdeen Explosion of Light committee to arrive. When Maybelline didn’t think she could take it any longer she saw a large black Buick park across the street, next to Mr. Olson’s house.

“They’re here!” Maybelline said as she clapped her green and white stripped gloved hands together.

“Is Mr. Winders on the committee?” April asked, surprised.

Maybelline nodded her head. “Yup. Him, Mrs. Maple, Owen Johnson, Horace Miller and Gordon Newcomb.”

April blinked in surprise. “You think you’re gonna win with that committee?”

“Sure. Why not?” Maybelline asked.

“Have you forgotten about the Newton Pumpkin Palooza in October?”

Maybelline blushed. “What about it?”

“You dented Mr. Winders’ Buick.”

“For one thing, I didn’t dent his car,” Maybelline announced defensively. “Maxwell Nelson did when he threw the pumpkin at me. I was just trying to protect myself.”

“By hiding behind Mr. Winders’ car? He’s not going to forget that too quickly.”

Maybelline waved off April’s concern. “It won’t matter. By the time this event is over he will have no choice but to crown me as the Queen of the Explosion of Lights Festival!”

It wasn’t just the committee who arrived but all the local newspapers, as well as the Albany Chronicle. A good portion of the town had also come to see the festive display.

“This is it. Now they’re going to see what an explosion of lights means!” she whispered proudly to April. “Go turn on the lights. I’ll let Mrs. Tindrow know.”

Maybelline had no sooner got to Mrs. Tindrow’s front door when a large eruption shook the house and nearly knocked Maybelline off the top step. The front door ripped open as Maybelline spun about to see what was going on.

“What the . . .” Mrs. Tindrow screeched from behind Maybelline’s back.

Mrs. Tindrow’s voice was drowned out by loud speakers Maybelline had arranged around the yard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the melodious sounds of holiday music blaring from the speakers but something that sounded more like an air raid siren. Hurrying down the steps, Maybelline rushed towards the sound system. She barely made it three feet before another loud booming sound erupted again and sparks of fire shot upward. Stunned, Maybelline covered her head and dove into the snowdrift. She wasn’t the only one who ducked for cover. Every person who’d come to see the display scattered like snowflakes in a blizzard.

Dazed, Maybelline looked up from where she’d landed and stared in horrified amazement. The holiday lights, all half million of them, she had so painstakingly hung upon every tree, shrub and building, began to shoot sparks up into the air. The sleigh and Santa, who had once sat so proudly upon the roof, decided to come crashing down. It narrowly missed Mrs. Tindrow’s head. Only by the grace of God and the arm of the abominable snowman was Mrs. Tindrow saved.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the enhanced sparklers which only seconds before had shot sparks into the air, suddenly decided to explode. One rocket shot off the top of the house and disappeared into the night sky. The three surrounding the house, skimmed the ground, melting snow as they blazed a trail across the yard. Screams drowned out the sounds of the air raid siren as people ran to and fro trying to avoid the zigzagging blasts of fire. Another rocket, on a path of destruction, annihilated the herd of reindeer, obliterated the gingerbread house and kept right on going.

“Watch out William . . .!” Horace Miller shouted as the remaining rocket atop the roof suddenly made a beeline straight for Mr. Winders.

Mr. Winders dove into a drift of snow, just missing getting torched by the rocket. His Buick wasn’t nearly as lucky. The rocket, in a shower of sparks and fire, landed right into the side of Mr. Winders’ Buick.

All eyes turned to Maybelline as April leaned in and whispered, “I don’t think this is what they meant by an explosion of lights . . .”

The Great Escape

“I sure hope Hank didn’t wake up,” Minnie grumbled as Claire backed out of the driveway.

“Why would Hank wake up?” Claire asked.  “You said he’s a heavy sleeper.”

“Are you kidding me,” Minnie exclaimed.  “You threw rocks at the wall.  You think he’s gonna sleep through that noise?”

“I had to throw them,” Claire retorted, irritated.  “You didn’t wake up when I threw the first pebble.”

“It’s two in the morning, Claire!  Excuse me for sleeping through the sound of a pebble hitting my window.”

“We discussed these plans last night!” Claire exclaimed, exasperated.  “I told you not to drink all that wine.  Wine makes you forget and then you over sleep.  Remember, the last time you drank wine?  We were supposed to go the casino only you overslept and we missed the bus?”

“That doesn’t count,” Minnie protested, irritated that Claire had brought up that incident.  “It’s not my fault people kept refilling my glass and I didn’t know it!”

Claire rolled her eyes.  “It was a wine party for goodness sake!  Of course they’d refill it.  What did you expect?”

Maybe Claire was right, Minnie thought.  Maybe she shouldn’t drink wine. Clearly, she loses all common sense after a glass or two.   She certainly couldn’t explain any other reason for agreeing to this harebrained idea.  Lord knows, she never went to black Friday sales.  At least, she never went to them when the sky was still dark and the sane were still sleeping.

“Wine doesn’t make me forget.”

The sound of Kitty’s voice scared the heck out of Minnie.  Clutching her hand against her chest, Minnie whipped her head around to peer into the backseat.  She could barely see Kitty.  It wasn’t because it was dark but rather because Kitty’s head was barely visible above the seat.  There was no denying the iron grey pin curls though.  They were all Kitty.

Minnie turned to Claire.  “I thought you were going to leave her home?”

A scowl creased Claire’s face.  “I wanted to but she beat me to the car.”

Kitty’s sharp, thin, laughter cackled from the back seat.  “You should have seen it Minnie.  I scared the hell out of Claire.”

“You didn’t scare me,” Claire scoffed in denial.

“Oh really?  Then how come you let out that scream?”

Claire rolled her eyes.  “That wasn’t a scream.  It was barely a squeak.”

“Yeah, a squeak that could wake a neighborhood,” Kitty shot back.

“It didn’t wake everybody,” Claire stated with a pointed glance in Minnie’s direction.  “Anyway, Kitty was already at the car and you know her, when her mind is made up there’s no changing it.  Besides, she’ll be able to help me get those door buster items I want.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” Kitty protested.  “I’ve got some things I want to get too.”

“Oh really?” Curious, Minnie turned around to face Kitty.  “What do you want to get.”

“Well, I saw some nice boxer shorts on sale.  I thought Burt might like them.”

“Don’t you think a pair of flannels would be better for Burt?” Claire asked as she turned onto the highway and started towards Albany.

Kitty shook her head.  “Naw.  They’re too warm for him.  He starts to sweat then he has to strip down to his skivvies.  This way we eliminate the stripping down.”

Claire wished she could eliminate the picture Kitty painted of Burt stripping down.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t erase the image of Burt’s knobby knees and wrinkled skin from her brain.  Maybe if she was lucky, the boxer shorts would be sold out.  Conversation died down after that as Claire drove through the dark streets to Albany.  By the time they reached the mall the parking lot was packed.

“See, this is why I wanted to leave at midnight,” Claire grumbled as she circled the parking lot for the fifth time.

“We couldn’t leave at midnight,” Kitty replied.  “Minnie was passed out.  Remember?”

Minnie gasped.  “I was not passed out.  I was just tired.  Thanksgiving takes it out of a person.”

Claire had just made another pass around the mall when Kitty pressed her hands to her stomach and let out a low moan.  “Oh lord, I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Panicked, Claire glanced up in the rearview window.  “What?”

“Sick!” Kitty shot out.  “We’re spinning like tops in this parking lot.  That makes a person sick!”

“Oh jeez . . .” Claire grumbled as she came to a sudden stop.  Fortunately, there was a traffic jam in front of the mall when Claire slammed on the brakes.  “Minnie, you and Kitty wait here while I find a parking spot.”

“Sure,” Minnie said as she stepped out of the car.

Kitty let out another groan as she clutched her stomach and climbed out of the car.  She stood on the sidewalk, hunched over and moaning.  Minnie rubbed her back as Claire started to pull away.  The brake lights flashed on again.  Both Minnie and Kitty looked up in time to see Claire roll down the passenger window.  She gave Kitty a hard look before turning to Minnie.

“Make sure Kitty doesn’t get into trouble while I’m parking the car,” Claire ordered.

“What trouble could Kitty get into on a sidewalk?” Minnie asked as she breathed warm air on her redden hands.

Claire gave Kitty a pointed look.  “You’d be surprised,” she grumbled.

As soon as Claire’s car was out of sight, Kitty straightened up.  “Come on.  Let’s go,” she announced as she started for the mall entrance.

Minnie reached out and stopped her.  “I thought you were sick.”

A sparkle of laughter lit Kitty’s eyes.  “Naw.  That was just so I could get away from Claire.”

“But we’re supposed to wait here for her,” Minnie said as Kitty once again started towards entrance.

“Look at this place.” Kitty spread her arms wide nearly hitting a swarm of people on the sidewalk.  “There are more people entering than leaving.  The parking lot is like a sea of red brake lights.  Not to mention that it’s freezing out here.  Why, I might die of hyperthermia before Claire finds a spot.  Do you want my death on your head?”

“I think you mean hypothermia,” Minnie corrected as Kitty opened the mall door.

“Well, I don’t want to die of that either,” Kitty retorted as she pushed her way past the group of customers saying, “Sick old lady here ready to puke.”

People scattered like the plague was about to hit Albany.  Minnie had to race to keep up with Kitty.  It wasn’t easy.  Between the crush of people, Kitty’s shorten stature and her uncanny ability to zig zag through crowds like nobody’s business, the woman was impossible to spot.

“Kitty!  Wait,” Minnie called out as she ducked under the outstretched arm of a man.

Kitty stopped and glared at Minnie.  She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited.  “Would you hurry up!” she grumbled.  “We’re going to lose all the best deals.”

“Jeez, it’s not easy getting around people.  I’m a little taller than four feet ten,” Minnie pointed when she finally caught up with Kitty.  “And when you zip around people you’re hard to keep track of.”

“Oh, I got those moves from the sniper movies.”

Minnie frowned.  “What?”

“Jeez, haven’t you ever seen a sniper movie?” Kitty replied.  ‘The actors always run in zig zags when they’re trying to get away.  That way they don’t get hit by the bullets being shot at them.  I just applied that knowledge to the crowd here.  Worked like a charm.”

Minnie looked around the mall.  “How the heck is Claire going find us in this crush?”

“She’s got a cell phone,” Kitty retorted, apparently unconcerned about the loss of her niece.  “Come on.  I heard Hutton’s has some nice silk boxers on special.  I’m thinking my Burt would look darn good in a pair of them.”

Claire was ready to panic.  She’d searched the mall for a good half hour and still she couldn’t find Kitty or Minnie.  The crowds made it nearly impossible.  Of course, if she hadn’t been fooled by Kitty’s lie, she wouldn’t be in this predicament.  She knew Kitty.  The woman never got motion sick.  Heck, the woman never got sick! 

After her third circle of the mall, Claire was desperate.  There was no other alternative but to go to mall security to have them search for Minnie and Kitty.  She turned about and started to head towards the security offices when she caught a glimpse of a scuffle just inside of Hutton’s.  A crowd was quickly forming around it.  A sinking feeling settled in the pit of Claire’s stomach as she hurried to the store.

When she reached the front of the crowd, Claire wished her aunt and Minnie were still lost.  There, straddling Gracie Pickler, was her eighty-nine year old aunt.  Gracie was making a valiant attempt to get away but Kitty was having nothing to do with it.  Not only was she straddling Gracie but she was playing tug of war with the woman over a piece of blue and turquoise fabric.  Minnie stood over the two, shouting words of encouragement in Kitty’s direction.  Suddenly, the fabric slipped free from Gracie’s grip.  Kitty didn’t waste a minute.  She scrambled off Gracie’s prone form and dashed out of the store as Minnie threw some money in the direction of the cashier before chasing after Kitty.

“Where’s the get-away car!” Kitty demanded.

Stunned, Claire watched as Kitty zipped past her.    “Don’t lose her!” Minnie called out as she raced past Claire.  “She’s got the sniper escape down!  In this crowd, we’ll never find her.”

Later, Claire would say she was lost in the moment.  That was the only reason she could come up with for following the two women.  She caught up with them just as Kitty burst out of the mall and into the cold morning.

The sun’s glow was barely visible over the horizon as they dodged cars trying to find a parking spot.  Claire fumbled in her purse in search of her keys.  Her hands were shaking so much she couldn’t seem to grip anything.  When she finally found them, she beeped the car open.  The three of them dove inside.

Claire let out a shaky breath as she turned to face Kitty.  “What the hell just happened back there?”

“Gracie happened!  That’s what,” Kitty grumbled.  “She tried to steal these.” Kitty held up the blue and turquoise fabric as evidence.

“What the hell is that?”

“Boxers.  For Burt,” Kitty retorted.  “I told you I wanted to get some.”

“But what does Gracie have to do with this?” Claire asked as she zipped the car out of the parking lot.

“She tried to take them.  They were the last ones in this color and if you think I’m going to let Gracie Pickler have them, you’ve got another thing coming,” Kitty announced.

“So, you stole them?” Claire demanded.

Kitty shrugged.  “What choice did I have?”

Claire could think of a hundred different choices.  She didn’t bother to mention any of them.  It wouldn’t have helped anyway.  Kitty wouldn’t have listened.  Instead she turned and glared at Minnie.

“Is this how you keep Kitty out of trouble?”

Minnie threw her hands up in the air.  “That’s it!  I am never drinking wine again!”

Welcome to Aberdeen

Every year, on the night before Thanksgiving, Aberdeen filled with people.  They came from far and wide to the quaint little town nestled in the Adirondack Mountains.  Excitement filled the air.  No one seemed to mind the freezing temperatures as they lined the sidewalks in breathless anticipation for the start of the Aberdeen Annual Glow in the Park Turkey Trot.

The evening was perfect.  Freshly fallen snow blanketed the landscape in pristine white.  Colorful Christmas lights sparkled from the trees surrounding the square.  The cozy smells of cocoa and sugar cookies teased the senses.  Santa, with his nose as red as his suit, was the guest of honor.  Lines snaked around the park as good little boys and girls waited patiently to give their requests.

And right there, smack dab in the middle of the square was the Christmas tree.  It took the town a good two weeks to find the perfect tree.  The town had exacting specifications.  The tree had to be taller than any other around.  It had to be wide at the bottom, narrow at the top and perfectly filled out in between.  They wanted something as strong and as proud as they were.

The tree now stood in the center of the town square, naked and unadorned.  That wouldn’t last long.  Even now, city workers stood upon ladders, waiting for the residents to craft an ornament to hang upon the tree.  Once the last runner crossed the finish line, the mayor would flick the switch, and just like that, the Christmas tree would be ablaze with millions of multicolored lights signaling the start of the holiday season.

The square buzzed with activity.  Local merchants sponsored tables to share their products with the visitors.  Dax Moore, a fireman with the Aberdeen Fire Department, stood behind the table serving hot cocoa and sugar cookies to the line of women vying to grab his attention.  Across the way Betty’s Café had a table, where Betty herself was serving steaming hot coffee and tea.  In another part of the park Papa’s Pizza was handing out hot, fresh slices of pizza.  Aberdeeni’s was handing out cannoli, and the world famous Candi Cakes were being shared by Candi’s Candies.

There were activities for young and old alike.  An ice skating rink had been built near the center of the park where even now it was filled with skaters, flying around it’s glasslike surface.  Crafters and merchants had tables displaying their products for sale.  Intricate snow castles were competing with snowmen of all shapes and sizes.  People milled about placing bets as to which would win the competition and reign king or queen of the holiday festival.  Children ran about, not bothered in the least by the flurries of snow that dropped from the night sky, while their parents chatted with their neighbors.

Ben Jordan, the young police chief from Aberdeen, stood next to Mike Landry, the mayor of Aberdeen.  Ben’s gaze swept through the crowds, taking in every detail, making certain everyone was safe.

“I’ve asked City Council to consider refurbishing the gazebo this spring,” Mike said drawing Ben’s attention away from the scene in the park.

The gazebo under question stood next to City Hall.  It was decked out in its finest holiday attire.  Red ribbon was wrapped around the posts and pine boughs were draped off the railing, sparkling with holiday cheer.  Carolers, dressed in rather dubious Victorian garb and singing a lusty holiday too, stood beneath its roof.  To say the gazebo needed to be refurbished was an understatement.  The wooden flooring was warped and worn in places.  The roof, reinforced nearly a dozen times in as many years, was barely hanging on.  Not that it mattered.  There were so many leaks in the roof any snow that landed on it was bound to fall through the holes peppering the surface.

“What they need to do is raze it and build a new one,” Ben replied as he watched Mrs. Jones talking with Gladys Clapper.  Barney, her dog, stood sentinel next to her, eyeing the passing people as if they were intent on doing her harm.

“The council will never agree to that,” Mike replied.  “They think it should be registered with the National Register of Historic Places.”

That bit of information got Ben’s attention.  He turned to Mike in disbelief.  “What?”

Mike Landry shrugged.  “They seem to think it’s historical.”

“It’s barely forty years old!” Ben replied.

Mike shrugged again.  “You know the council.  There’s no sense trying to be logical with them.  You’ll see,” Mike added with knowing glance in Ben’s direction.

Ben ignored Mike’s comment.  City Council had made no secret they wanted Ben to assume the role of mayor when Mike retired next fall.  Each time the council cornered Ben, he had listened patiently to their reasons, neither accepting nor rejecting their offer.  Mike had nearly a year left in his tenure.  Ben wasn’t about to usurp Mike’s authority by considering the council’s offer.

“I think you should know that I’ve arranged to have the guys in flak jackets for this,” Abe, one of Ben’s officers announced as he came to a stop in front of Ben.

The irritation of becoming mayor was quickly replaced by annoyance.  To call Abe ornery and difficult would have been a compliment.  The man had a complaint for everything.  He thought he had a solution too.  Year after year, Ben kept hoping Abe would finally bite the bullet and retire.  In the six years Ben had been police chief, Abe never once hinted at the possibility retirement was in his future.  Ben figured Abe stayed on to do his Word Jumbles, collect the local gossip and to make Ben’s life difficult.  So far, Abe was batting a thousand.

Mike whipped his attention to Ben.  “Do you think there’s gonna be trouble?”

Ben gave Abe an exasperated look as he replied, “Of course not.  We’ve done this for years.  There is never trouble.” At least not the kind of trouble that required flak jackets, Ben thought.

“That’s not true,” Abe corrected before he took a sip of the coffee he held in his gloved hand.  “Don’t you remember what happened in Newton during their Pumpkin Palooza?   There was nearly a riot!”

“There was nearly a riot because someone spiked the apple cider,” Ben replied dryly.

He’d heard the news from Sheriff Wincomb just a few weeks past.  Ben wasn’t surprised the apple cider had been spiked.  Things like that happened.  Ben, however, was not about to allow that to happen here.  He made that perfectly clear to his officers.

“Your men are ready though, right?” Mike asked, clearly concerned.  A riot was not the legacy he wished for.

The muscle flexed in Ben’s cheek.  “My men are always ready.”

“Yeah, thanks to me,” Abe replied.  He saw the dark look Ben shot at him.  “Hey, I’m just trying to be helpful.”

“If you want to be helpful, why don’t you go over there and direct traffic,” Ben retorted, pointing towards the parking area just off Main Street.

“I’m no traffic cop!” Abe protested.  This earned him another hot glare from Ben.  He threw up his hands in submission.  Coffee flew out of his cup and landed on Ben’s jacket.  Abe let out a disgruntled sigh.  “Fine.  I’ll direct traffic but I warn you, the union is not going to be happy about this!” he grumbled as he stormed away.

“What about Rufus?  You don’t think he will be here, do you?” Mike asked as Ben brushed the coffee off his coat.

Ben understood Mike’s concern.  Rufus Merriweather was the town’s streaker.  Sometime during the year, Rufus would strip down into the outfit God had given him and run through the streets of Aberdeen.  He’d been doing it for seventy years and Ben doubted he would stop until he took his last breath.  Rufus naked was not a sight Ben wished to see on a warm, sunny day.  He sure as certain didn’t want to see it when the wind was blowing and the temperature was nearing thirty.  Heck, Ben couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to see Rufus naked.

He scanned the surrounding area to see if Rufus was about.  He didn’t spot Rufus, but he did see his mother and she didn’t look the least bit happy as she marched towards him.  Neither did Kitty, who Claire towed behind her.  Minnie, Claire’s neighbor and friend, kept pace with Claire, chattering the whole way.   Kitty’s husband was nowhere in sight.

“Where’s Burt?” Ben asked when Claire reached his side.

“He’s home.  Where she should be,” Claire snapped giving Kitty a pointed look.

Ben laughed.  Kitty certainly had a way of keeping his mother on her toes.  “What did Kitty do now?”

“Hey!” Kitty said, taking umbrage at Ben’s words.

“I’ll tell you what she did!” Claire shot out.  “She went and sat on Santa’s lap!”

“So?  What’s wrong with that?” Kitty demanded.  “That’s why he’s here!”

“No.  He’s here for the kids,” Claire corrected.  “You’re not a kid.  You’re an old lady.”

“Speak for yourself!” Kitty snapped.  “Besides, Santa didn’t mind that I sat on his lap.”

Claire rolled her eyes.  “Oh for God’s sake.  You’re eighty-nine years old!”

“So?” Kitty protested.  “I don’t know how much longer I have left.  I need to put my requests in when I have a chance.  I want to make certain I have a spot saved for me in heaven.”

“I think you’ve got Santa confused with the man upstairs,” Minnie said, cautiously pointing towards the cloud filled night sky.

“I don’t have them confused,” Kitty corrected.  “I’m hedging my bets.  The way I figure it, I need all the help I can get.  If Father Frank can’t get me into heaven, then maybe Santa can pull some strings for me.”

“Oh for goodness sake!” Claire groaned again, wondering exactly what she had done to deserve having to deal with her aunt for the holidays.

“Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve sat on a young man’s lap,” Kitty continued.

A low groan of irritation erupted from Claire.  Clearly, she did not appreciate Kitty’s opinion.  Ben tried to contain his laughter.  He took pity on his mother and decided to intervene on her behalf.

“What about Burt?”

Minnie gave Ben a look that suggested he’d lost his mind.  “I said young man.  There ain’t nothing young about Burt,” Kitty huffed.

“How do you know Santa is young?” Minnie asked.  “He looked old to me.”

“Naw,” Kitty said, dismissing Minnie’s comment, with a flick of her wrinkled hand.  “That’s just the wig and beard.  When I sat on his lap I noticed . . .”

Claire slapped her hand over Kitty’s mouth.  “Don’t you dare say it!”

“What?  I was just going to say that I noticed he didn’t have any wrinkles around his eyes.  What did you think I was going to say?” Kitty asked when Claire pulled her hand away.

A blush the color of Santa’s suit, ran up Claire’s cheeks.  Thankfully, she was saved from explaining what Jimmy Tanner, Mike’s deputy mayor arrived.

“It’s time,” Jimmy said to the group.  He turned to Mike and asked, “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I will be,” Mike said, holding up the flare gun.

Ben wished he was as confident.  Mike wasn’t known to be the most accurate shot with the flare gun.  One year Mike had shot the star off the top of the Christmas tree.  Another year, he had shot the window out of the Court House.  And yet another year, he had flatten the tire on George Winders Buick.  Last year Ben had asked Mike if he wouldn’t feel better using a starter gun as opposed to a flare gun.  Mike had immediately dismissed Ben’s notion like it was crazy.

“Now you know Ben,” Mike said in a voice that suggested Ben was either a child or ignorant.  “We’ve always used flare guns to start the Turkey Trot.  It’s a tradition and it’s what makes it festive.”

Ben didn’t think danger was festive at all.  He could have gone to city council and pushed his concern regarding the flare gun.  Lord knows he could cite plenty of examples.  But seeing as this was Mike’s last year as mayor, Ben decided he’d make a concession and allow the man to use the gun.  But that didn’t mean Ben wouldn’t keep an eye on him.

At least that was his intention.  Only before Ben knew what had happened, chaos erupted.  Just as Mike started to lift his arm to shoot the flare, a loud explosion sounded in the area.  Barney, Mrs. Jones’ beagle, panicked at the noise, breaking free from Mrs. Jones’ grip.  He charged directly towards Mike, like a heat seeking missile.  He clipped Mike in the knees causing him to fall backward just as he pulled the trigger.  The gun sounded and a flash of light erupted lighting the area.  The flare made a beeline, not towards Stop ‘n Shop parking lot as intended, but headed directly towards the gazebo.  Somehow, no one was hit.  The same couldn’t be said for the gazebo.  The flare sailed through the air, narrowly missing one of the caroler’s top hat as it landed smack dab in the middle of the gazebo.  The caroler’s reaction was instantaneous.   They scattered, leaping over the wooden railing as the worn floor erupted in flames.  Seeing the flames, the spectators panicked and began to run, screaming from the area.  Soon there was a confusion of runners and spectators all racing through the streets.  Ben watched in amazement and disbelief, wondering what more could possibly happen when Kitty suddenly let out a loud whoop.  Ben turned his attention to his great aunt.  All four-foot ten of her stared, mesmerized, straight ahead.

“Woo wee!  Now that’s a lap I wouldn’t mind sitting on,” Kitty announced as Rufus Merriweather ran past them, wearing nothing more than a pair of dayglo socks and sneakers.

Ben looked over to see Mike Landry’s reaction.  Mike lay sprawled on his back in the snowdrift.  Ben reached down to help the mayor up just as Mike said, “I guess we won’t have to refurbish the gazebo after all.”