by Earl Staggs
This story was originally published in Futures Mystery Magazine in 2003 and was a Derringer Finalist in 2004.
Silky Sutton squeezed the DVD player and a box of silverware into the trunk with the rest of his haul, then closed the lid, hurried around the car, and slid into the driver’s seat. He checked his watch. Six-forty p.m. and just starting to get dark. His informant had assured him no one was ever home at this house on Monday nights between six and eight. Perfect. Timing was the key to Silky’s success. Bing, bam, boom. In, out, and gone before anyone noticed a strange car in the neighborhood.
He left his headlights off, drove to the end of the driveway, and waited for a big white sedan to pass by. But it didn’t pass by. It stopped at an angle, half in the driveway blocking his getaway and half sticking out into the narrow street, its headlights glaring right at him.
“What the. . .?”
The driver’s door of the sedan opened, and a tiny old lady squirmed her way out, smiling and waving at him like an old friend. She had to be at least seventy, Silky figured, as she shuffled toward him. She also looked ridiculous in a bright yellow sweat suit, pink sneakers and silver-blue hair held up by a red and white polka dot headband.
“Geesh,” he muttered. “A refugee from a Kmart sale. What the heck does she want?” He lowered his window as she came alongside and peered in at him through thick black-rimmed glasses.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, young man,” she sang in that wavering voice old people have, “but your car is perfect for my grandson’s room.”
Silky stared at her. “You, uh, want my car for your grandson’s room?”
She raised her hands to her mouth and giggled behind them. “Oh, heavens no. Not the whole car, just the color. I’m redecorating little Winston’s room, and this is exactly the color I’m looking for. What is it?”
Silky wondered if the old lady was not only fashion challenged but a little wacky, too. “Uh, it’s green, ma’am,” he said.
She giggled again. “Oh, silly me! I know it’s green, but there are so many shades of colors these days. I meant what shade of green is it?”
With an effort, Silky held his patience. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know the exact shade. Would you mind moving your car now? I’m kinda in a hurry.”
She ignored his request, making Silky wonder if she might also be deaf. With a finger beside her nose, she scanned the side of his car. “I thought Forest Green at first,” she mumbled, “but it’s lighter. Hmmmm. Hunter Green, maybe.”
“That’s it,” Silky said. “Hunter Green. Now if you’ll please move your–”
“I know!” she exclaimed. “I’ll get my swatches.”
While she tottered back to her own car, Silky assessed his situation. He couldn’t squeeze his car past hers and the driveway was bordered by thick shrubbery on both sides. Trapped. His only hope was that she’d decide on the color for little Winston’s room quickly and be on her way. If not, he might have to bop her and move her car himself. He didn’t like violence, especially against someone’s grandma, but he liked the idea of another stretch in the slammer even less. Besides, she reminded him of his own grandma, may she rest in peace. She’d been his idol, his role model, and his teacher. The lock hadn’t been invented Sadie Sutton couldn’t pick or a security system she couldn’t get around.
The old lady returned with a bulging fistful of paper strips. Silky slumped in his seat and fumed as she laid the first swatch on the hood of his car. She studied it intently for several moments, then crumpled it and threw it back over her shoulder. She did the same with the next swatch. And the next. And the next. Silky’s patience was wearing thin, and bopping was looking better and better. After some five minutes of this, she held up one of the swatches and called out, “How about this one? What do you think?”
“Perfect,” Silky called back through his windshield. “That’s perfect. Now will you puh-lease move your car?”
She held the swatch close to her eyes for a second or two, then moved it slowly away to arm’s length and nodded.
“Aha,” Silky thought. “Finally!” His spirits sank when she scrunched her nose, shook her head, crumpled the swatch and tossed it. When she began examining the next one, Silky could take it no longer. He’d have to bop her. Sadie would understand.
He eased out and strolled casually to the front of his car. It wouldn’t be a hard bop, just enough to put her out long enough for him to move her car. He looked up and down the street. Clear on the left. When he looked right, he saw the headlights of another car turn into the street at the far end. Silky was relieved. The rear end of her car had the narrow street blocked, and now she’d have to move it. Good. He hadn’t really wanted to bop a grandma.
“Looks like you’ll have to move your car now,” he said. He jerked a thumb down the street. “They can’t get through.”
She gave the approaching car a glance and nodded. “It’s about time. But they don’t want to get by. They’re here for you.”
“I called them,” the old lady said calmly. With that, she eased down on her knees and began gathering the paint swatches she’d tossed away. “I was on my way home and saw you carrying things out of my house.” She grinned up at him. “Aren’t cell phones a wonderful invention? Good thing my Karate class was cancelled or I wouldn’t have been home for another hour or so.”
“Your…your house?” Silky stammered. “But what was all that stuff about a color for your grandson’s room?”
“Oh, that,” she said, busily gathering litter from her driveway “I already bought the paint this afternoon. Desert Beige. Little Winston will love it, but I had to keep you here somehow and that’s all I could think of.”
Silky wagged his head and sighed. Snookered by a wily old grandma in pink
sneakers. There was nothing he could do but accept his fate. And give credit where due. “I gotta hand it to you, ma’am,” he said. “You got me good. Tell little Winston I hope he likes his new room.”
“Tell him yourself,” she said with a sly grin and a twinkle in her eyes. “See that handsome young officer getting out of the patrol car? That’s him.”
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