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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

FIRST CHAPTERS - Novels in Progress

Allen McGill

Chapter One:

"You wouldn't expect an old lady to walk all the way to the shops, would you?"

Vicky Banning, at seventy-two, was sprightly, independent and, at the moment, bored to a tizzy. After a frenetic year of flitting about the jazz clubs of New Orleans, topped by the near-sleepless week of Mardi Gras (when she’d nearly been arrested for impersonating a policeman in "undercover drag"), she’d decided to "cool it" for a while. She’d moved into Seniors’ Sanctuary, a posh retirement home in eastern Pennsylvania housing scores of others, whom she referred to as the "Methuselah Mob," or the "geriatric gang," as it suited her. The problem was that her housemates didn’t suit her at all. It seemed that whenever they spoke, it was only to whine about their aches and pains, complain about the Sanctuary (which was excellent), or moan about the distance of their families.

Vicky kept her aches and pains to herself, and most of her family lived in California, which suited her quite well. They took care of each other and she took care of herself, which was the way she wanted it. The birthday and Christmas cards they sent were company enough; contact without responsibility.

Vicky had been born in 1900. Though she thought about death occasionally, and was not looking forward to it certainly, she wasn’t afraid of it either. It would be an adventure, she felt, not the long, restful sleep the mortuary ads insisted it was. Hell, she’d had so much rest during one period of her life that she’d been ready to climb walls!
Heaven, if there really was such a place, was where she was headed; she was sure about that. Her God wasn’t petty and certainly wouldn’t condemn her for the few peccadillos she’d committed as a young woman. So, her future set, she felt free to pass her latter years however she pleased.

Seated on a straight-backed chair in the shade of the veranda, Vicky glanced to the right, at her new "roomies." Rocking gently on their scoop-bottomed chairs, they reminded her of antique toys: faded, worn, springs running down, preparing to stop. As some tilted forward, others tilted back, each in a dull cadence; in constant motion, going nowhere, marking time.

God! thought Vicky. If I don’t find something to do soon, I’ll become as dotty as they are! Leaning forward, she arose gracefully from her chair, flounced her flowery dress and crossed to the railing. Shunning the banister, she skipped down the steps and, with a smile to her housemates, sauntered along the path to the street.
Maybe I’ll go get drunk, she thought. Or pick up a man on the street. She giggled to herself, knowing she was being silly. She’d never liked the taste of liquor and strangers didn’t interest her—of course it depended on how "strange" they were, and in what way.

Spring breezes swept her along the path until she reached the sidewalk, then turning right, she scurried off behind the tall hedges, out of view of the "rockers." She waited patiently until a car came by, and then flagged it down.
"Can I help you, ma’am?" the driver, a young man with the hazy stubble of a new beard, called across the passenger seat to her. He was driving a ramshackle heap of indeterminate origin and looked more at home in it than he would in any room.
"You can give me a lift to Main Street," she answered with her most grandmotherly smile.
"You’re hitching?" the man asked with a surprised chuckle.
"I’m hitching," replied Vicky and, opening the door, slid inside. "You wouldn’t expect an old lady to walk all the way to the shops, would you?
"Oh, er, of course not, ma’am," the young man answered, driving off. "At your service. What shops are you headed for?"
Vicky thought for a moment, then grinned. "Well, I’m not really going to a shop," she said. "Actually, I’m looking for a dealer."
"What kind of dealer?"
"You mean like grass seed?"
"No, like in pot, marijuana. You know."
The car screeched to a halt.
"Lady, are you kidding? You’re a doper?"
Vicky sat primly facing forward, her hands resting lightly on her large purse. "Oh, I enjoy toking on a joint now and then," she said. "But now I just want to ship up a batch of cookies for the folks I live with. Do you know where I can score?" She turned to face him and nearly erupted with laughter at his gaping mouth. "Well?"
His head jerked spastically. "No!" he blurted. "I’m not into that sort of thing. And you shouldn’t be either. Lady, don’t you know that stuff can be dangerous?"
"Sonny," said Vicky, "at seventy-two years of age, I should start worrying now?"
"But you could get arrested."
"Don’t be silly. Who’d believe a little old lady like me was a pot-head? You sure you don’t know of a dealer?"
"No, lady! I swear!"
Vicky looked disappointed. "Oh, well, let’s get going then. I’ll just have to cruise around on foot until I connect."
They drove in silence to Main Street, the young fellow glancing sideways at Vicky from time to time. When they arrived, Vicky stepped out, closed the door and leaned into the open window. "It’s a good thing you answered me the way you did, Sonny," she said with all seriousness.
"Sonny" looked confused, asked "Why?"
Vicky grinned slyly. "Because I’m with the vice squad, narcotics division, that’s why. This old-lady getup is just a disguise. Now, take off and keep your nose clean."

Tires squealed as the car streaked across Main Street, nearly ramming the rear of red a Volkswagen that had the right of way.
That’ll teach him to pick up hitchhikers, she thought, suppressing a giggle. She turned to amble along the street, glancing into the shop windows and stopping now and again to admire a dress, or a piece of jewelry, when an idea came to her. Unsnapping her bag, she removed the bills from her change purse and transferred them to her bra.

The gift shop had few customers, so Vicky browsed freely, rejecting the offer of assistance by the salesgirl.. She perused the greeting cards, priced the glassware, then asked to see the Hummel figurines in the glass showcase behind the counter.
She decided on the figure of a little girl holding an umbrella, but waited until the salesgirl left to assist two women who had entered before slipping it into her purse. She started toward the door.
"Just a minute, Madam," she heard the salesgirl call. "I saw what you did!" she shouted loudly. A man, probably her husband, rushed from the back of the store.
"What’s up?" he asked.
"This lady just stole a Hummel," the girl said, her voice shaky.
The man glared down at Vicky and extended his hand. "Let’s have it," he ordered.
Vicky fumbled with her bag, letting her lips quiver, tears fill her eyes. On cue, her thin shoulders trembled pathetically. "I’m sorry," she said, with a tremulous a voice as she could muster, and handed him the figurine.
"We should call the police," the man said gruffly. "You’re a thief!"
The "should" assured Vicky that she was safe, but since her act was going so well she decided to carry it through. She gasped, as if shocked to the core by his unkind words, her free hand fluttering to her heart. "Oh, please," she cried. "Don’t call the police. My family would have me put away. I only took it for my granddaughter. She’s in the hospital…a rare blood disease. And I don’t have enough money to send her a gift. This month’s welfare check is gone already. Look"—she reached into her bag and removed her change purse, shaking the coins inside—"here. Take all the money I have. Just please don’t call the police." Her speech over, she let the tears cascade down her frail cheeks, before hiding her face in her trembling hands. That ought to clinch it, she thought.
"Oh, the poor dear," she heard a woman say. It was one of the customers. Vicky had been concentrating so hard on the front row audience, she’d forgotten about the standees. "Mr. Barnett," the voice continued, "may I see you for a moment?"
"You wait here," Mr. Barnett ordered, and walked away with the customer.
After a few minutes, Vicky was wishing he’d hurry back. Sobbing was tiring. But she managed to keep it up until he returned.
"You’re very lucky," he said. "These kind ladies have offered to pay for the figurine you…borrowed."
Vicky was startled; she hadn’t expected that. She looked up at the middle-aged women standing at a distance, saw their charitable smiles, the sympathetic tilt of their blue-coiffed heads. Probably think this will get them into heaven, she thought. They should be thanking me! "God bless you all," she gushed tearfully. "My granddaughter will be so happy."
Mr. Barnett boxed the Hummel, slipped it into a bag and handed it to her. She clasped it to her heart, projecting overwhelming emotion. "Thank you. Thank you all. I know I can get this to her in time. I’ll mail it…as soon as I can save the money for postage."

Vicky scanned the movie posters outside the theater, the package pressed tightly to her chest. Holding it with one hand, she reached inside the front of her dress to remove the half-dozen marking pens she’d dropped inside. They’d started shaking loose during her sobbing jab and she’d had to hold onto them the whole rest of the time. She dropped them into her bag, removed the change purse and "postage money," added the Hummel and snapped it shut.

Now, what next, she wondered. Standing in the shade of the marquee, she scanned the row of shops across Main Street, as the early-show crowd began streaming from the theater. She’d thought of stopping in for an hour or so, but she’d noticed that the film was rated R and therefore didn’t interest her. Bare behinds were cute, but vulgar language did not a movie make. Television might be inane, but usually it was much more prudent.
As the swarm thinned out, Vicky spied a torn ticket stub on the ground and stopped to pick it up, a smile creeping along her lips. She crossed the street, entered Ye Olde Tea Shoppe and settled herself at a gingham-covered table near the window.

When the gray-haired waitress with a frilly apron took her order with such a delighted smile, Vicky began to have doubts about the place. Anyone who could get that turned on by a cup of tea and a club sandwich was not at all well. The sandwich was good, though, loaded with the mayonnaise and bacon that would give the Sanctuary dieticians a stroke by just hearing about them. After a second cup of tea, rested, she braced herself and motioned for the check.
"Smiley" delivered it and stood, waiting.
"Oh, my goodness!" Vicky cried, digging into her purse. "My money. It’s gone!" She looked up in time to see the lips close over suspiciously white teeth and an eyebrow arch upwards.
"Beg pardon?" the waitress asked with a decidedly icy tone.
"My change purse," Vicky explained in a quivering voice. "It’s gone. I must have lost it."
Smiley slapped her book of checks on the table. "Hey, Ginny," she called, turning. "We got another stiff here."
A cold, hard lump expanded within Vicky’s chest. Her hands began to tremble. Apparently Ye Olde Tea Shoppe was not going to be Ye Olde Pushover.
Ginny, a large woman older than the waitress, thundered toward the table. Her face was one large frown. "What’s going on here?" she demanded in a baritone voice that Ezio Pinza would have coveted.
"This sweet little old lady has lost all her money," Smiley said with full sarcasm. "Isn’t it funny how often that happens nowadays?"
"Hilarious," Ginny growled. She moved to hover over Vicky like a drill sergeant on a raw recruit. "Open your bag and empty it on the table."
Vicky hesitated, began to cower under the mass of flesh—only part of it an act. The bills were secure in her bra, she knew, but her purse was private. No one had the right to pry into it. The indignity, the—
"I said open it," Ginny repeated with more force. "Now, or I’ll call the cops. You old bats think you can get away with anything because of your age, don’t you? Well, you’re not much older than I am, honey, and I work too damned hard for my living to support a bunch of freeloaders. Now open that bag, or the cops will!"
Vicky’s mind was in turmoil. This amazon obviously had no respect for age, or womanhood. She really would call the police who would search her and find her money. She needed time to think. "I’ve always paid my own way" she said weakly, but with a hint of pride in her bearing, as she upended her purse. "I tell you I must have lost the money. Or, it was stolen when I dozed off at the movies."
She watched as Ginny’s thick fingers sifted through the items on the table, saw her scoop up the change, then examine the ticket stub.
"She probably has it hidden on her," Ginny said to Smiley, then leaned her halfback shoulders over the table, speaking directly into Vicky’s face: "Now get it up, or I call the cops!"
"Yes," Vicky said quickly. "Please, call the police. Maybe they can get my money back for me."
Ginny’s face unfolded with surprise, startling Vicky with its expansion. "You want me to call them?" she asked.
"Yes, please," said Vicky, her confidence growing. "It was all the money I had." A tear flickered in each eye. "I don’t know how I’ll live until my disability check arrives."
Ginny was obviously taken off guard, judging by her blank, wide-eyed expression.
Vicky turned shyly away. "Tumor," she said softly and watched the women flinch. "My chest," she added, tapping her change purse. "Inoperable. The doctors found it about a year ago and made the mill lay me off. But they’re very good to me, bless them. They send me almost a hundred dollars a month."
Ginny stared at her for a moment, then straightened up, her face now a tangle of confusion.
"Aren’t you going to call the police?" Vicky asked timidly.
Ginny’s face went blank again. She shook her head slowly. "Oh, I don’t think…"
"Please," Vicky implored, humbling herself and lowering her eyes. "I’d call them myself, but you’ve taken every penny I had in the world."

"Are you sure you’re not related to the Robert Wood who lived in Cleveland?" Vicky asked. The young officer stopped the car near the hedges, as she’d asked him to, out of sight of the "rockers." He’d seemed surprised and suspicious when she told him where she lived, until she hinted that she was the live-in washerwoman.
"I’m sure, ma’am," the dark-eyes man answered with a smile.
"Well, you certainly resemble him," she said. "Handsome devil he was…but so naughty." She let a titter escape.
The officer laughed embarrassedly, a faint blush coloring his face. "Ma’am," he said, "are you sure you can’t remember what your change purse looked like? Or how much was in it?"
Vicky’s head drooped sadly. "Age dims the memory," she answered with a deep sigh. "I’m sorry to be so much trouble, but I simply can’t recall. Anyway, there can’t have been many lost in the theater today, so any one that’s found is bound to be mine. I hope one is found," she added after a thoughtful moment, "so I can pay that…charming woman at the tea shop."
"Oh, don’t you worry about that," the officer said. "They cut the bill in half and I took care of it for you."
"Oh, you shouldn’t have," Vicky exclaimed. "Now I feel terrible." (She'd much rather have stiffed Big Bertha for the whole tab). "But, thank you. You are so kind." She patted his hand. Men were such pussycats. "I know the dear Lord will repay you for your goodness."

She slid from the car and turned back to close the door, saying, "Officer, someone warned me to avoid the place where those awful…marijuana dealers hang out. But, since I don’t know where that is, how can I avoid it?"
Later she wrote:
MACKY’S CAFÉ—23 & Main, she wrote in her little pad. ASK FOR GENE!

Strolling along the path toward the large, white house, Vicky felt the exhilaration of the day’s activities press down on her. It was a good feeling, one of accomplishment, of having had a full, exciting day. And now that she was "home," she could relax, rest and replenish her energy.
Of course, there was that lovely cameo in the jewelry store window...

© Allen McGill July 2003
BIO: Originally from NYC, Allen lives, writes, acts and directs theatre in Mexico. His published fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, etc., have appeared in print as well as on line: NY Times, The Writer, Newsday, Retrozine, Laughter Loaf, Flashquake, Herons Nest, Cenotaph, TempsLibres, Autumn Leaves, Poetic Voices, Amaze-Cinquain, Bottle Rocket, Frogpond, Modern Haiku, World Haiku Review, many others.

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