knew something was up when Marla came in with a box and an impish look. "I found a way to get even with Bert." she announced. This was welcome news. Bert's behavior had antagonized everyone in the junk business. Someone put salt in his coffee one morning, but no one had thought about actual world-class revenge.
"Delicious!" I rejoiced, throwing my arms up in hallelujah. "'S'bout time! Whatta ya gonna do?"

"I read somewhere about this prank. It was so-o-o funny, and I thought it would be perfect for Bert." She put the box down and hooked a hank of silky brown hair behind her ear. "Especially since we have THIS."

She pulled a fat roll of wide, screaming yellow plastic tape from the box. Bold black letters spelled "Crime Scene--Do Not Cross" along its length. We had acquired this in a box lot at an estate sale and saved it thinking it might come in handy as strapping tape.

"Gonna tie him up?" The vision of wispy Marla wrangling burly Bert rodeo style was ludicrous. I couldn't begin to put myself in the picture.

"Even better," she promised. "Bert's in Mt. Dora this weekend. We're going to decorate his house."

I could see how it might pique the curiosity of the neighbors. Bert would come in late Sunday night from the weekend sale, near exhaustion after packing, loading and the two-hour drive, then find he couldn't get in his own house. Naturally he would think he had been robbed. The neighbors would pounce asking for details. How long would it take him to realize it was a prank? Just too good!

Still, I thought she was crazy. I added that I was too old to be involved in hoaxes and pranks. But when I asked if she knew where he lived, she knew I was game.

"He must be in the book."

"Yes, but I'm going to auction tonight." I tried to manufacture an excuse but Marla was plainly in charge.

"Just go preview and leave a bid if you have to. This is our chance. I'll pick you up. My car is quieter." We closed the shop and I went home to empty the dog.

Fritz is part golden retriever and part sidewalk setter, medium sized, a pale butterscotch color with a silky brush tail. He speaks dog and I speak English, but we understand each other perfectly. Three little squeaks from the top of his throat plainly said, "Are you going to leave? Can't I go with you? Please, please?"

"I'm sorry." I soothed, "Can't take you tonight. No dogs in Marla's car."

Fritz told me what he thought of that with a haughty snort and went to drown his sorrows in his water bowl before he took to his bed in a pout. His nose rested on the pillow but his eyes followed me for any sign that I might change my mind.

At Prouder's that night, I couldn't keep my mind on business, so I gave it up. The prospect of mischief was putting a spring in my step. Nothing can make a person feel so young as a little childish behavior... better than an avocado facial any day. I could hardly wait for Marla to pick me up.

It was only fifteen minutes away. It was a cinch. We went after nine o'clock, giggling all the way.

Bert's street ran along a drainage canal overgrown with a jumble of Brazilian Pepper trees and scrub oaks tangled with grape vines. It was a modest neighborhood of two bedroom houses with open carports. Conveniently, the street was dark and the houses separated by overgrown hedges. Lights were mostly bare yellow bulbs at front doors or flickering blue TVs seen through windows.

Marla passed the house and turned around at the dead end. She doused her lights and coasted to the shoulder. We were aimed for the main street. Bert's house was dark except for a lone bathroom light. We sat for a moment to rearrange our nerves. The scent of a gardenia in bloom mingled with the odor of decaying vegetation from the drainage canal. The night insects resumed their serenades.

"Are you sure this is it?" My voice was barely audible.

"One way to find out." Marla got out of the car and opened the mailbox.

"Now you're getting federal." I warned her as she pulled out a letter. She showed it to me. It was addressed: Bert Cook.

"Two four letter words." I murmured.

We discovered a chest and dresser under a tarp at the rear of the carport and any doubts we had about being in the right place were dispelled.

"A junker for sure." Marla observed.

I looked toward the bathroom light. "You don't suppose he could be in the bathroom?"

"His car is gone."

"It might be in the shop."

"You think he's in the bathroom?"

"Could be."

"Why don't you go look in the window?"

She didn't seem inclined to join me so I didn't give the suggestion any more thought.

We took the spool of tape and secured the end at the back of the carport, wrapped it around a convenient punk tree, down to the mailbox, across the drive to a hibiscus bush and back to the front door. We used the last bit to add some extra criss-crosses for good measure. I plucked a gardenia from the bush beside the door and was ready to make a getaway from the "crime scene," but Marla had more devilment in mind.

"Lay down here on the driveway." She told me.


"Shhhh! Just lay down here a sec! I've got to do one more thing."

“Marla! What on earth?" I was baffled but followed her instructions.

"OK, now throw out your right arm...Yeah, that's it!"

Marla took a fat piece of sidewalk chalk from her pocket and outlined my figure sprawled on the driveway. She helped me up and we surveyed her handiwork. Marla added the outline of a Saturday Night Special as a final touch.

"Shouldn't it be more Bert's size?" I whispered.

"Just think," she argued, "If its not Bert and they don't know where Bert is, won't that cause more speculation?"

I agreed. "Besides, if they think Bert's a goner they might just say 'good riddance' and go on with their business."

We skedaddled, satisfied that we had pulled off the prank of the century. We were giggling and dreaming up scenarios Bert would have to deal with. Our only regret was that we would not be there to watch. As always, we would have to rely on gossip.

Nancy saw the flashing blue lights first. I saw them and a chill stab of guilt rose up my back and across my shoulders. I dismissed the possibility that we had committed a minor traffic infraction. My seat belt was fastened. I knew instinctively that he must be after us because of our prank. But what could we be charged with?

We hadn't broken in. We weren't aiding anyone. Could this be considered "making a false report?"



Interfering with police business?

I looked at the gardenia in my hand and dropped it to the floor, complimenting myself on having the presence of mind to avoid being observed tossing something out the window.

The officer was returning her driver's license. I could already feel the handcuffs. I wondered who I would call for bail. I wouldn't. I would be too embarrassed to have anyone know I had done such a stupid thing. I had been so busy fighting the guilt monster and a demanding bladder that I had not heard what the officer said to Marla.

"That was sobering." Marla sighed, pulling onto the road.

"Why did he stop us?"

"License plate light burned out."

We were relieved but the traffic stop had thrown cold water on our spirits, and I really needed a pit stop. All the same we were looking forward to hearing some good gossip.

"Stop at McDonald's."

"Burger King OK?"

"Any place with a clean potty.”

M.C. Frier is a native of Clearwater Florida, now living in Suwanee GA. Her project "Secondhand People, Confessions of a Recovering Junker," is a collection of her reminisces and experiences in the junk and antiques business. She may be at your next yard sale.

©Copyright 2004 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.