I felt another vibration and snuck the phone halfway out of my pocket. It was another text from JB.
Are you on the way back yet?
I wanted to explain what was happening, but Jimmy was watching me now. His eyes kept dropping down to my pocket. I think he knew about the phone, or was at least getting suspicious.
While it was still in my pocket, I unlocked the phone and typed out a short reply, one I could do without looking. Short and simple.
Then I hit send. When I looked up, he asked me, “What do you have in your pocket?”
I shrugged. “My panda,” I said, “and a couple of quarters for the arcade. The usual.”
He looked like he wanted to ask me something else, but he changed his mind. After a few seconds, he said, “The cleaners are on Ardmore. We can walk there from here. At least I can, I’m in incredible shape. Let’s go.”
We walked over to Ardmore, which was actually only about three streets down. I had walked around a lot since I moved here and I was getting pretty good at finding my way around. It should have only taken about five minutes to get there. It took us twenty, as Jimmy kept finding reasons to stop. He saw a suspicious-looking rock, a shadow he didn’t trust, and a squirrel that, in his opinion, looked spooked, as if it had witnessed something big go down. Once he even had us turn around and walk the wrong way for a while in order to throw off a couple of birds that he said could be enemy drones.
While Jimmy was studying the V-pattern of a flock of geese to determine if they were real or not, I snuck the phone out and sent another message.
Headed to cleaners on Ardmore because someone dropped the pants in the dirt and made them dirty. Hmmm. Wonder who that was?
I smiled when I hit send. Things went mostly according to the plan and now this was almost over and we could get JB’s parents to relax. I also got a free dinner and a ton of new notes on detective work from Jimmy. What more could you ask for in a summer day?
“Don’t worry, those were just regular geese. We’re not being followed, at least not anymore. Let’s go, it’s right over there, next to the White Hen.”
We walked into the cleaners and there was only one person ahead of us in line. That person was talking to the cashier and was probably about done. Jimmy brushed a little dirt from the pants and then asked me if I thought his plan would have worked if he did have to infiltrate the strip club. “I’m not sure,” I told him truthfully, “I don’t have all the details. You didn’t tell me about Prong Eleven.”
“I’ll tell you when you’re older.” Jimmy looked up at the guy in front of us, who was leaning in close to the cashier, talking quietly but urgently about something. “Geez, this guy is taking forever,” Jimmy said, loudly enough to be heard. I think that was intentional.
They didn’t seem to notice. The cashier was looking down, not looking the guy in the eyes but looking at his chest and shaking his head no. I turned and saw that Jimmy was watching too. He shrugged. “Probably arguing about a stain.”
Jimmy started brushing off the pants again and turned them over a few times in his hands to search out any stains of his own. I used this opportunity to check the phone.
OK, I told mom and dad. Let me know when you’re on the way back.
I texted back.
You’re not the boss of me.
After a moment,
That’s right. Jimmy is. He’s lead detective. LOL
I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. This was fun. Once Jimmy was satisfied that there weren’t any big stains to deal with, he started tapping his foot impatiently. “I don’t even see any clothes in this guy’s hands. What is taking so long?”
Jimmy paced and groaned and tapped his foot again. The relaxed pace we took here didn’t seem to be his goal anymore. He groaned again and then looked at his wrist like he was checking the time, but he wasn’t wearing a watch. If he did wear one, he’d know that we were there for about one minute. By looking at him, you’d think it had been an hour.
“Hey mister, are you going to take all day? We have special pants here that need some attention.”
The man at the counter stiffened and straightened up. He was tall, a bit over six feet. He wore a dark blue hoodie with the hood up. He turned just enough to shout over his shoulder, “Shut up and wait your turn kid!”
When the man turned I could just make out that he was wearing sunglasses. It gave me a bad feeling. I quickly walked over to Jimmy, meaning to grab his arm and get us out of here, but it was too late. Jimmy balled his hands into fists, crumpling the fabric of the pants. As this guy would soon find out, Jimmy hated being called ‘kid’. He said that grownups only used that word when they were trying to talk down to you, when they were trying to win an argument and logic or the truth wasn’t on their side.
“I’m not a kid,” he shouted back before I could grab him. “I’m a man. Just ask your mother, I saw her last night.”
I froze in mid step. The man banged his right fist on the counter, making the cash register jump and emit a tiny bell ring. He didn’t turn around, but his words were growled at Jimmy without a doubt.
“What did you say about my momma?” The voice was deep. Mean. I crossed the last of the distance and grabbed Jimmy’s arm. “Let’s go!” I hissed in his ear. I took one step but he shook loose from my grip.
“I said I went to see her last night. Shocking, I know, since I don’t usually go for the really big ones. When I told her to haul ass to the bedroom she had to take two trips!”
The man shook a little. I could tell it was from anger. He grabbed something from the cashier and then turned around. Behind his sunglasses I just knew his eyes were smoldering. In his left hand, gripped tightly, was a shiny handgun.
Now we knew why he was taking so long. He wasn’t getting dry cleaning, he was robbing the store!
I felt a faint buzzing in my pocket. I wished I could answer it but I was once again frozen in place. Jimmy finally shut up and he froze too. The man smiled and stomped towards Jimmy. He looked down at his gun, as if pondering whether or not to use it. “I think you owe my mom an apology,” he said angrily. He reached out and roughly snatched the pants from Jimmy’s grip. “I’m going to give these to her as your way of saying sorry.” Quick as lightning the man leaned back and then kicked Jimmy hard in the stomach, sending him tumbling backward into a row of hard plastic chairs. The man turned and ran out the door.
The cashier yelled out that he was calling the police. I ran over to Jimmy, hoping the damage wasn’t too bad. He had a queasy, almost green color for a minute but after a few coughs he said, “Dummy! Got him to leave a footprint on me. That’s evidence.” He coughed once more and then got up to his feet with my help. He shook his head and it cleared. “Which way did he go?” Jimmy stumbled a bit but he took off on a dead sprint for the door.
“Jimmy, wait!” I yelled out but I was already a few steps behind him. I knew that he wasn’t going to wait. The cashier was yelling something to us but it all faded away as we exited to the parking lot. Jimmy stopped for a minute, panting from pain and exertion but scanning the lot as he did so. “We can’t go after him. He’s got a gun!” I said, pointing out the obvious.
Jimmy shook his head. “If he was going to use it, he would have used it. He’s a coward, possibly raised by a fat mother. We can’t let him get away with this.”
“That’s a stupid risk to take, he could still use it anytime. And I don’t think a pair of pants - ” I was going to say that I didn’t think a pair of pants was worth dying for, but it seemed like I chose the wrong words. At the mention of the pants, his head snapped up, his pain was forgotten. “The pants!” He started off towards a dirty blue pickup truck that the man was just closing the door to and starting up. I ran as hard as I could after him.
Once I got close enough to Jimmy I grabbed his shirt and pulled back as hard as I could. He thrashed and flailed around like a scared bluegill at the end of a fishing line. “Get off me!” Jimmy screamed, “I have to get the pants! I took an oath!”
“No you didn’t” I shouted back as I grit my teeth with the effort of reeling him in. I couldn’t tell who was winning. “Yes I did! I swore an oath in my head, I do that at the start of every case. I swore that I would solve this.”
“If you only said it in your head then nobody knows! You can break it!” He fought his way free and then stumbled as I lost my grip on his shirt. It was a little stretched out and it caught on his hand as he pushed himself up from the ground and looked me in the eye. “Oaths aren’t cinder blocks, I don’t break those.” He then let out a high pitched war cry and ran to the truck. The pickup was beginning to reverse and turn, its plastic novelty testicles swinging wildly underneath the rear bumper. Jimmy closed the distance with another special ops roll and then got his hands on the back, hoisting himself up and over into the bed of the truck.
I was scared but I was also part of the team. Screw it.
I pushed myself as hard as I could and I got to the rear bumper as it slowed for the turn to exit the lot. I was up and over a second later. I laid flat as I could and looked over at Jimmy who was doing the same. He looked at me with wide eyes. “You came?”
“Duh!” I said. He smiled a different kind of smile and said thanks. Then he asked me, “Can you believe there’s a fourth kind of pants snatcher? All this time on the job and I’m always learning new things. Remember to write this one down.”