By Mindy Hardwick
By Mindy Hardwick
I slowly roll through the empty streets. My black BMW hums beneath me and the leather seats give me a fine ride. The night air drifts in from the open moon roof. I hum under my breath and pull into the empty parking lot of the Center. The car’s stereo is silent tonight. Tonight, I must go totally unnoticed.
I slide into a parking space and take a quick look around. I need to make sure that I am the only one on the premises. A small camera light flashes over the doorway. I know well enough to stay far away from that lens.
The Center is an easy job. I know the layout better than my own home. When I was seven, I spent hours at the Center. It’d been the place I escaped to when Mom was sleeping off her latest night of partying, and I didn’t want to hang out and watch TV while wa Mom's date of the night emerge from the bathroom.
My favorite recreation activities were the games likes checkers, backgammon and chess. The games were picked up for pennies at the Goodwill or Thrift Store. Sometimes they were donated from attics and basements. Those games always had a musty smell, and we usually pushed them into the corners of the shelves. There always seemed to be something wrong with playing games that most likely had come from people who’d passed on.
The game boxes from the thrift stores were torn and tattered. Pieces missing. But we didn’t care. All of us knew how to make do with what we had. We improvised pieces out of small bits of paper trash, and made up our own game rules. The hours flew past and I’d find myself forgetting about what was going on at home.
Now, I slip the car's gear into park. Pull the keys out of the ignition, and drop them into my leather jacket pocket.
I take a quick look at my gold watch band. 2:30 AM the digital numbers glow. I feel like I’ve got the whole world to myself. It’s always like this when I’m doing a job. One of the things I like best about night jobs is the peace and stillness. It’s when the most action takes place, but no one knows it.
The small, one-story, brick homes which surround the Center are dark except for an occasional porch light. Most of the folks don’t turn on the porch lights at night. Porch lights waste too much money, and in this neighborhood, every bit counts. I breathe in and breathe out. There are no cars zipping up and down the street. It’s just me and my lil’ old job.
Stealthy, I make my way to the left hand side of the building. I steal a peak at the windows. Good and dark.
I crouch down. Take some more breaths and try to still my heart rate. Even after all this time, I can still get worked up doing a job.
From behind me, a screen door slams. For a minute, I move into “still mode.” The cops think I’ve learned “still mode” in my jobs. But I learned “still mode” as a six-year-old when Mom’s boyfriend used to beat her up. I learned to be extra quiet not to get myself slammed around too.
I crouch beside the center and strain my ears for voices or movement. In one of my early jobs, I got so carried away with getting inside that I missed hearing a man walking his dog. I spent a month in juvie for that mistake.
Tonight, I hear only the quietness of the night. Whoever has been out is, either, back inside or is taking a moment to sit on a porch in the cool night. None of the porches can see this side of the center.
Carefully, I reach around the side of the building and lift the black box out of it’s hiding place. One of the lil’ homies hid the box, and I make a mental note to give him a reward. I reach inside and pull out a small hand shovel. Working quickly, I dig small holes in the dirt. Once I’m satisfied, I stop to listen. This is the important part. Now is the time when I don’t want to be caught.
Standing, I head back to the car and pull out a large white sack. I drag the sack back to where I was before. It's time to get the job done. My heart pounds. This is the part I always get the most excited about. Again, I take another listen, and then I work quickly. I lift out the merchandise and fill each hole. Then, I cover each piece with dirt from the white sack. I’ve learned that most of the soil isn’t good for protecting.
I make sure everything is good and covered with thick soil. Then, I unfold the green hose from the Center’s side wall. I turn on the water spigot and give everything a good soaking. When the water starts rolling off the dirt and onto the pavement, I’m done. I roll the hose back up, make sure the water is completely turned off, and stand back to admire my work.
Yellow marigolds dance in the moonlight night.
I lean back on my heels, and just for a minute, I feel a little bit more like the boy Grandma always said I could be.