Byron parked his bicycle next to another in front
of the junior high gym. He’d heard they were teaching a Karate course
and wanted to watch. Upstairs in the weight room, he found his friend
Ralph poised in a striking position receiving instruction from the black
belt Karate teacher. He watched for a time nodding hello to the teacher
whom he knew from taking his class at another location.
Returning outside he noticed—they were gone. The bicycles were nowhere to be seen. This was the second time his was stolen. A year ago a similar situation in front of a mall, he stepped inside for a few minutes and it was taken. His mother helped him track it down. A few nights later a police officer showed up at his door with one of the bike thieves and the father who’d turned his son in. He eventually got the bike back, but with a few scratches and some different parts on it.
Byron looked around and thought where would I go if I were a bicycle thief? The sun was setting, darkness coming quick over the landscape. He went inside, carefully sidled up to Ralph, so as not to disturb the class, and whispered, “Our bikes have been stolen.” His friend eyes went wide. “I’m going out to look for them, they may not be far. I’ll check back soon.”
Where to begin looking? For some reason he was drawn toward the track down the hill. It was past the soccer field located in a long gully which led to a deep ravine in the woods. Slowly he crept down a dirt hillside. Though the sun was down, there was still a trace of light. He saw what looked to be a reflection from something metallic on the other side. Then came the sound of boys talking. He shielded his eye glasses with his hand so they wouldn’t reflect light as well and peered through his fingers. Rocks started landing nearby. Whoever those voices belonged to had spotted something moving on the hillside. They where trying to drive the intruder away. Byron crept back up the hill, went to the gym, told his friend he may have spotted the thieves and he was going to call his dad.
He used the pay phone at the school’s entrance.
“Dad, someone swiped my bike and a friends at the school gym. I think I may have spotted the thieves. Would you bring the car to help look?”
“Okay. Just a minute.”
He could hear his father talking to his mother then he came back on the line.
“Give me 10 minutes to get dressed,” his father said.
He waited by the pay phone. It was dark. Along came three boys walking from the direction of the soccer field. Byron sensed these where the same ones who were down at the track throwing rocks at him. He contemplated running, but decided it would be better to act relaxed and pretend he hadn’t encountered them before. As they got closer one looked familiar, a local tough who’d been to reform school. He was a muscular kid of about 14 wearing a faded jean jacket leading the other two. They seemed agitated.
“Have you seen any other kids around here?” the leader asked Byron as he sat against a parked car, cradling a football.
“No, except for some paperboys meeting at the newspaper shack,” he said.
This was complete bull. There’d been no meeting tonight, but he thought it was better to give a few details out like he wasn’t afraid to talk to them.
The leader listened to his answer as he rested his chin on the ball. “You’re sure?”
“Yes,” Byron said.
The leader exchanged glances with the other two. “Okay,” he said and to the others “Let’s go.”
Off they went.
Byron thought this through. If these were the same guys who took the bikes, they didn’t have them now. So they must have ditched them, unless they put them back? He walked around the side of the school and looked in the direction of the gym. No, they hadn’t been returned. His dad arrived in the car. Byron directed his father where to drive and filled him in on the conversation with suspected thieves. The neighborhood they entered was behind the gully, above on a plateau. There was an elementary school there and a pathway connecting to the junior high school’s track through the woods. Down the main road of the neighborhood they dead ended at the other school. Byron got a flashlight from the glove compartment and exited the car. He started shining it around the school yard while his dad waited. Then heading out the school’s back exit leading to the pathway, he scanned the woods by the trail and walked all the way down to the track, shined the light around, but the bicycles were nowhere to be seen. He returned to the car.
“No luck.” he said.
“Maybe they threw them in the ravine,” his father said.
“I could look tomorrow, in the day, maybe spot them. That ravine’s pretty deep.”
“There’s a stream at the bottom, isn’t there?”
They began driving back to the main road when the headlights flashed for an instant in a ditch at the side opposite the school. There they were—the reflectors on the fenders glowed red, yellow, and white—the bikes had been ditched in a ditch. Byron, so excited seeing this, almost opened the car door and jumped out.
“There they are! Look dad! Down there,” he pointed to the ditch as he grabbed the door handle.
“Wait a minute ‘til I pull over! his dad yelled, “You’re so impulsive!
They lifted the bikes out of the ditch and loaded them into the trunk, then drove back to the gym.
Ralph’s bike inside to put it near him in the class. Receiving a
grateful look of appreciation, Byron smiled and nodded. For all his
friend knew he could have made the whole thing up, since he never came
out to look for himself.
In the car, his dad said, “Sorry about yelling like that, but you seem to do things without thinking sometimes.”
They drove home and put the bike away. That night Byron lay in bed reviewing the evening’s adventure. He should really get a bike lock. The days were passed when you could leave one of your possessions unattended in public. There may be someone who’d come along ready to profit by your loss. Someone like those guys he’d spoken with earlier, the leader and his two cohorts. He wondered what they were thinking tonight. Thinking perhaps they gotten away with it. They had gotten away with it, but Byron knew who one of them was. Still, he couldn’t prove anything. Just have to chalk it up to experience. It was a pretty exciting experience though: the robbery, the search, the intriguing encounter with the thieves and solving the crime: finding the missing bicycles. Soon he drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow was another day.
Right and Might
Albert’s face was pressed against the ground, the other boy on top pinning him down. He knew what he had to do.
started some weeks ago at the local newspaper shack where Albert
delivered. It was an afternoon paper, except Sundays, which was a
morning delivery. He hated getting up at 4 am, but if you didn’t go down
to the shack to collect your alloted amount of papers in time you might
be short. Someone may have taken a few or you could have been given less
than your correct amount.
The only to way to make sure was to be there when they were handed out
by the manager paperboys, the Leggett brothers.
Many of the paper routes were large, as many as 100 customers stretched over a rural community and some newer apartment developments. Albert’s was over 80 subscribers in a several mile radius. When papers were large, like on Sundays, he used a three wheeled cart for delivery. During the week they were thin enough for just the paper shoulder bag and bicycle.
The Leggett brothers had the largest route in the district. Their father frequently drove them down in a station wagon to help out. He was a short stocky man, whose swagger and authority his sons did their best to imitate. The other paperboys were assorted blue-collar kids from the neighborhood who kept out of the Leggett’s way, since they had developed a reputation not to be challenged. Only one paperboy, Leber, had voiced opposition. Recently he’d been attacked, beaten with wood clubs weighted with lead at the striking end. Mr. Leggett watched from the car while his two sons made the assault.
Albert knew Leber. The reason for the beef: there was no set time for the paper shack to open each day. The Leggetts kept the paperboys waiting and guessing when they would show up. They were never very late, but they could also be early, so you had to get there well before or risk finding your paper count short. When the Leggetts arrived, they’d open the shack, get their papers first, then hand out the others. They wore the smiles of Roman occupiers. They knew they were boss.
Albert was new to this job and he decided to join the opposition. He felt what was going on wasn’t right.
“Why don’t you set a time the paper shack opens each day so we know when to come?” he said.
“Why should we? Things are fine the way they are now,” said Burt.
“We come real early and wait for a long time, especially if you show up late. If we had a set time we’d know when to come.”
“That’s the way it is. You don’t tell us what to do.”
“Does the district manager know you come whenever you want?”
Burt gave Albert a cross look, “Are you trying to start trouble?”
Now the father got involved. He stepped to the shack doorway and leaned out.
“You better not make waves for five good reasons,” he said. Each of these reasons closed one at a time until all were clenched into a fist.
Albert called the district manager, Mr. Pendall, and told him what was going on. Pendall said he would have a word with the Leggetts.
The next Sunday after the Leggetts got their newspapers, they proceeded to give them out to the others. When Albert’s turn came they passed him by handing out the next guy’s and the next.
“It’s my turn now. I arrived before Peter,” he said.
The Leggetts ignored him. The younger brother, Vale, started grinning, he knew what was coming. The older brother, Burt, was just waiting for the right moment. It came.
“I want my papers. It’s my turn now!” he demanded.
Burt jumped out of the shack and started punching Albert, who hit the ground. The station wagon’s headlights acted like theater spotlights illuminating this one sided brawl. Albert didn’t fight back, just rolled wherever Burt shoved him, until he was pinned to the ground.
Albert thought to himself, this is so stupid, I am not interested in fighting, this doesn’t prove who is right. If Burt wasn’t enough to beat me up, then his brother would join in, and then if necessary the dad. They’d all gang up. You can’t win, so you better apologize. There is nothing else to do.
“All right, I’m sorry, I apologize,” he said.
There was almost disappointed and resigned boredom in his voice. Burt let him up from the ground. The Leggetts beamed with victory. Finally they gave Albert his papers.
His friend Tim, said, “It looked like you almost had him there for a moment.”
Albert sighed and replied, “He kicked my ass and that’s that.”
After finishing his route, Albert went home. He decided it was best to adjust quickly to this unfortunate event. There was no sense in feeling bad about it. He was outnumbered and the other paperboys weren’t going to get involved. It was a very important life lesson. There would be other times when he’d have to go along to get along. This behavior isn’t brave, isn’t right, but sometimes it’s the only way to survive.
People like to think they’ll stand up for what’s right when the time comes. It’s a brave notion, but when faced with an overpowering force, a force all too happy to see you throw yourself into its gears over a principal, then you have to decide whether it’s best to risk breaking or bend like a branch in the wind.
Albert learned to bend and tried to let go the memory of defeat, but it stayed with him all his life.