Monday, 23 November 2009
SIGNS OF THE TIMES by James C. Clar
Early bird, James, grabs the gauntlet thrown out by Matt...
Signs of the Times
“Listen, sir,” the tired and disheveled looking police detective said to the elderly man sitting across from him at the cluttered desk, “you're some kind of lucky that the boy’s parents have decided not to press charges. They apparently believe you when you say you didn't mean any harm.”
The suspect stoked his beard then rubbed his temples with the thumb and index finger of his left hand. “You're right, officer, of course. But just between the two of us, it’s all this ‘political correctness’ claptrap; that and government regulation. I mean, you need a permit for this, a license for that or some kind of obscure variance. And all of those things cost money. The overhead for a small businessman like me is outrageous these days. First the workers in my factory unionized. Then the eight mopes in shipping and distribution got on my case about their health benefits. Do you have any idea what I pay each year for heat alone? Of course you don't. Oh, well, I had no choice but to shut things down and file for bankruptcy. It’s a sign of the times. I applied for a ‘bailout’ and for some stimulus money but, so far, they tell me I don't qualify.”
The squad room was a veritable beehive of activity. Two tired prostitutes were arguing in the next cubicle with a man who was clearly their pimp. A sergeant from Vice was acting as referee. Somewhere in the background a radio was playing Christmas carols. Brenda Lee was “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” and Nat Cole was crooning about “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”
The detective was beginning to get exasperated with the old man who, already, had taken up far too much of his time. After all, it was one of the most hectic seasons of the year for law enforcement. With the crowds and holiday shopping invariably came an increase in shoplifting, car break-ins, purse-snatching, check forgeries and all manner of street crime and bunko scams. Damn, the frazzled policeman thought, I need to get back to work. Down the hallway, the odd couple of Bing Crosby and David Bowie argued their way through a scratchy rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
“OK, ok, Pops. Things are tough all over. But, hey, even a guy with your background can't hang around the malls bouncing strange little kids on his knees. That’s a recipe for disaster, know what I mean?”
“Detective,” the old geezer replied, “It’s not like I seek those children out. They're naturally attracted to me … and I can't help myself, I want to make them happy. You'd think somebody out there would be willing to put me to work. After all, I’m the one who started this whole thing, remember? I have years and years of experience. These days, though, the big chain stores and upscale malls are after young fellows who understand the latest technology … cell phones, I-Pods, DVD players, those digital cameras and all that computer nonsense. I can't even compete on a free-lance basis anymore.”
I've got to get rid of this guy, the detective thought; he'll hang out here all day telling me his life story if I don't. He slid the suspect’s driver’s license back to him across the desk. Taking the not-so-subtle hint, the elderly man stood and returned his license to his wallet.
“Alright, then,” the cop said in his most official, peremptory tone. “Just remember, if we get any more calls about you, well, we'll have to take some fairly serious action. Most parents these days, the way they coddle their children, aren't likely to be as understanding as these folks have been. You caught a huge break here. Lemme tell you.”
“Rest assured, officer, we're on the same page. I'm sorry to have caused such a fuss … and to have taken up so much of your time. Thanks for letting me ‘vent’ a little.” Chastened, the old man began to make his way out of the crowded squad room.
“Hey,” the police detective called out to him as the man was about to disappear from view, “you might think about putting in an application over at K-Mart. I hear they're hiring ‘greeters’ this time of year. With your ‘people skills’ it just might be a perfect fit.”
“What a grand idea,” the old duffer responded as he turned and ran his gnarled fingers through his white beard with one hand and patted his once rotund belly with the other. “Ho-Ho-Ho, it surely is. Maybe they'll even be able to find a job for the missus too.” And with a hearty “Merry Christmas” reminiscent of better times, the old man shuffled his way placidly out of the chaotic room.
James C. Clar's work has been published in print as well as on the Internet. To date he has written over 200 stories in a variety of genres ... fantasy, science fiction, mainstream and noir. A few of those stories are even worth reading. Fewer still might even be worth remembering!