Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Case of the Vanishing Penny

Well, my umpy-umph wedding anniversary is next Tuesday, so a kiss to my late wife and a sigh that my blue period is coming to an end … for this year, at least.

Enough of that. Let’s get on to another short story.



     The usual gang was hanging on the street corner—Squiggly and Wiggly, also known as the Hoffman brothers, Maxine, and me—doing what ten-year-old kids do at high summer. Killing time. Actually, I was showing off one of my magician’s tricks when Ryan walked up. He was another kid from this neighborhood just south of the tracks not quite in the dumps but not uptown either. Ryan’s bigger’n we are and a bully, but he gets by ‘cause all the girls says he’s “sooo good looking.” Couldn’t see it.
     Anyway, I was bamboozling them with this penny—my entire bankroll at the moment. I’m pretty fast, so I was doing a fair job of keeping them guessing which hand it was in until Randy Ryan showed up. Then all my fingers turned into thumbs.
     He gave a horse laugh. “You ain’t very good.”
     I don’t know if it was because Maxine went all twitter-twitter-and-chirp when he was around or because he’d given me a bloody nose last summer, but I didn’t like Ryan very much. My mouth went motor on me.
     “Yeah, well I can make this disappear. Completely.” I was holding up the penny and smirking at him when it hit me that was as likely to happen as me breaking the four-minute mile. Cripes. He hopped right on it.
     “You do that, Colin, and I’ll buy ever body a RC Cola down at the corner store.”
     “Rather have a Dr. Pepper, Wiggly said.
     “Strawberry,” his brother piped up.
     A Nehi orange was Maxine’s choice.
     “Whatever,” Ryan dismissed them. He could afford to. His dad was the only one on the block had a job except for some CCC work. Those three Cs stood for Civilian Conservation Corps, but us kids mostly called it Civil Constipation Cramps. People kept talking about the Great Depression, but we didn’t know what that was. We just knew everybody was poor. Raggedly-assed underwear poor. Hell, I wasn’t even wearing any beneath my bib overalls. Saved the only patched pair I had for church on Sunday. Frankly, all I had on was the overalls and my brother’s hand-me-down shoes…about a size and a half too big.
     Naturally, my pals were salivating for a treat like a nickel soda pop. We likely couldn’t put together enough among us to buy one of them, and that included my penny. But I didn’t trust Ryan. He probably had the twenty-cents all right, but he wasn’t dangling the coins in front of us for free.
     “What happens if I can’t do it?” I asked.
     The bully gave a real mean smile. “Then I get to whomp on you without nobody telling.”
     Made giddy by shouts of “You can do it” and “Show the bum,” I heard the part of me that’s always getting me in trouble accept the bet. Dumb-ass. Nothing but a dumb-ass.
     With no idea of how I was going to come out of this without a beating, I started my routine under the sharp, beady-eyed stare of Ryan Dilfigger. Fear made me fumble-fingered at first, but desperation soon restored some agility as I flipped the penny between my fingers and started moving it from hand to hand and pocket to pocket. It went on so long my digits started to cramp, and Ryan got tired of waiting. I couldn’t stall any longer.
     I switched from the right hand to the left, and dropped the penny into my overall pocket while pretending to palm it. After supposedly switching it from hand to hand again, I turned my palms up and unclenched my fingers. Everyone went “Awww!” at the sight of my empty hands.
     Except for Ryan. Declaring it was in my pocket, he started pawing around with both hands without any regard for my personal dignity. Then he felt all up and down my legs. “Crap! Where is it. Pull your pockets out.”
     “You can’t pull overall pockets out,” Squiggly said. “They’re sewed to the legs.”
     So Ryan shoved his hands down in both of them. “A hole! He’s got a hole in his pocket. Without another word, he shoved me aside and started grubbing in the dirt. I figured that was the end of me, but he came up empty.
     Then he got another bright idea. “Your underpants! You stowed it there.”
     “Not wearing none.” I got kinda red-faced admitting that in front of Maxine. I couldn’t imagine her telling me she wasn’t wearing panties. But Ryan didn’t leave anything to chance. He tugged at my waistband and peeked down inside. I jerked away, but he’d seen enough to know I wasn’t lying.
     It took another five minutes of pawing, but after that, even Ryan had to give up. Muttering dire threats, he led us down the street to the grocery store. Before trailing along behind, I paused to sweep the ground with my gaze. Where was that danged penny? Maybe it had disappeared. Be great if I really did have powers like Mandrake the Magician.
     Halfway down the street, I felt something flopping in my left shoe. That danged penny didn’t bother me until it got stuck under my heel. Then I started limping.
     I’d have a blister tomorrow, but a blister was better than a beating.


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