Thursday, April 14, 2011

Excerpt from Swash!

Lucas and the rookie Tomlinson got the call.

The brazen robbery of building materials from the lobster dock and the lumberyard was heinous enough, and they went there first to take their reports. But while there, another call came in, and what had happened to the octogenarian security guard at Wal-Mart really burned Lucas’s buttons.

When they arrived there, he was still bound, gagged, and tied to a wheelchair in the medical device aisle. The employee who found him had left him that way because she worked in cosmetics, and company policy strictly forbade her from having anything to do with medical devices.

Lucas complimented her for both following company policy and keeping the evidence intact, such as it was. And what the security guard told them when they finally got his gag off, which took half-an-hour because it was tied with some kind of devilish sailor’s knot, revealed the trauma of the experience had sent the man off the deep end. The guard was so incoherent, Lucas sent Tomlinson off to the prescription counter to grab the guy a couple of Xanax.

When the store manager arrived, they all went into a narrow backroom to view grainy black and white videos taken from both the parking lot and inside the store. After watching only a few minutes, a now tight-lipped Lucas thought maybe the security guard was onto something.

The thieves had arrived in a horde, swooping down on the place after the security guard unwittingly opened the door to have a cigarette. Dozens of men wearing bandanas on their faces or hats pulled low swarmed down on the unarmed man. Once inside, they began to loot and pillage selectively. From the camping section, they took every canvas tarp in the place. From sewing, they took needles and thread and piles of loose material. The cutlery section was almost a total loss.

A few minutes into the video, Lucas saw the image shift to a different department, where a lone man stopped a moment to carefully examine its contents. His body language suggested he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“What section is that?” Lucas asked the manager.

“Cutlasses,” the man answered.

It took Lucas a moment.

“Cutlasses?” he asked.

“Cutlasses,” the man answered again.

He turned to Lucas and saw that he still didn’t understand.

“You know,” he went on. “Swords and foils and sheaths and stuff like that. Cutlasses. You’d be surprised what big sellers those things are. Folks like to hang them in the house as decoration. They’re also big in Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments. In fact, swords of all kinds are among our company’s biggest sellers.”

“Cutlasses?” Lucas asked again.

“Cut-la-sses,” the man said again, impatient now, drawing out the word as if speaking to a child.

When he got no further comment from the cop, he turned back to the video and watched the mayhem continue in — as much as the cop refused to believe it — the cutlass department. More and more men began to arrive, and before long they all carried out armfuls of the things. To Lucas, their face and head-coverings along with their strange clothing made them look like something from another age. He was on the verge of remembering something important when the manager spoke.

“Hey, you know what they look like?”

After a moment, Lucas answered. “Yes, I do.”

With swords in their hands now, you couldn’t help but see it. The fact that one or two had begun engaging in friendly and quite masterful swordplay only underscored the image.

“They look like pirates!” the manager said excitedly.

Lucas gritted his teeth. It was the exact word the security guard had used to describe them.

“Yes,” he answered coolly. “Yes, they do.”

In fact, not only had the security guard sworn they were pirates, he said that as they carried out their booty, they began to . . . sing. He hadn’t recognized the song, but said it was one of those where one man shouted and the rest answered, one man shouted and the rest answered. The chorus went on and on. The guard said he feared he’d hear it ringing in his ears for the rest of his life. He said it went something like:

“I’ve got a coat and a nobby, nobby coat
I’ve got a coat a-seen a lot of rough weather
For the sides are near wore out and the back is flying about
And the lining’s looking out for better weather.”

Of course, the Xanax might have been kicking in about then, so Lucas wasn’t sure how much was real and how much was imagination. But seeing it now on the screen he knew one thing for sure: this needed to be kept under wraps. The last thing he needed was for his town to become the butt of jokes or worse, people actually believing there was a marauding gang of pirates running around, even if there were. He looked the manager in the eye before laying down the law.

“By order of the police department,” he began, “all information gleaned from these videotapes, which I’ll be taking by the way, and statements from all witnesses to this crime are hereby ruled strictly confidential, on a need to know basis, and embargoed as evidence in a criminal case. And if any word of this gets out, I will know exactly where it came from and you will fry, my friend. Do you understand me?” he asked.

The manager had already gone back to looking at the video.

“Yeah, yeah,” he answered, unable to turn away from the mayhem on the screen. “I guess.” But moments later, he just couldn’t help himself. Turning to the cop, he said, “But they really do look like pirates, don’t they?”

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