Authors: J. Clayton Rogers
Tags: #treasure hunt mystery, #hidden loot, #hillbilly humor, #shootouts, #robbery gone wrong, #trashy girls and men, #twin brother, #greed and selfishness, #sex and comedy, #murder and crime
J. Clayton Rogers
Nothing in Marvin Hemmings' imagined
scenarios prepared him for the shoot-out. The Jewelers' Security
Alliance reported armed robberies against retail jewelers had
jumped over the previous years, and Vernon Baldwin had done his
best to make his store unappealing to local and transient slick
willies. There were four bullet cameras covering the entire display
floor of the Ice Boutique. There had been no need to put one
outside—exterior cameras at the pizza parlor on one side of the
Boutique and at the Subway on the other covered the parking lot.
Since Vernon's cameras could be monitored not only on the office
computer but also from Vernon's West End residence, this was a
mixed blessing for Marvin, who even at that moment was being
recorded at 30 fps. If he spread out a 16"
everything-but-the-anchovies on one of the shiny Tecno jewelry
showcases, Uncle Vern might be watching and there would be hell to
pay. He was Vice-President of the Dominion Jewelers Association,
after all, and needed to put on a good front.
The gun in the utility drawer next to the
register should have provided an extra margin of protection. But
instead of being reassured, Marvin found it dangerously
"An HK P7, Marvin," Uncle Vern had told him
his first day on the job. "A good German utilitarian weapon. Even a
moron can use it. What's that look? I'm not calling you a moron.
But even if you're just an idiot, that's a notch up from nothing.
Don't blubber. Are you going to run crying to your mother? She's
the one who told me you've got the brains of a gerbil. Are you
afraid I got this out of a pawn shop? It's perfectly licensed and
A bullet in flight did not care if the gun it
came from was licensed or not. If the theoretical robber happened
to be armed, displaying a firearm legitimized you as a target.
"Let's go out to the firing range in
Sandston. Fire a few rounds, Marvin, just to get the feel of
"I get enough practice with Grand Theft
"A computer game?"
"It's pretty graphic."
Uncle Vern had waved the gun in Marvin's
face. It was hard to believe that most of the family believed this
same man to be impractically saintly.
"You don't get any more graphic than
As his nuts shriveled into chickpea
gerbil-balls, Marvin comprehended the world of difference between
physical and digital reality. It was inconceivable that he would
pull that handgun out and flag himself for mortality. He'd decided
on the spot there was no way he would stay in the jewelry store
business, family or not. Retailers got popped on a regular basis.
Only the month before, a pair of robbers hit a store using
swords, for chrissakes. It
was a dangerous job, no doubt about it, and he couldn't believe his
mother had pushed him into it, just because she happened to be
Vernon's sister. It didn't seem like a very motherly thing to do.
Besides, Marvin knew IT guys his age who pulled in salaries three
times what he was making at the Ice Boutique (and what a corny
was, and misleading,
with as much De Beers as a dime store—Saint Vernon said he wanted
nothing to do with
diamonds). If his mother really wanted to show her love, she
would google him proper employment. When was the last time a
systems analyst had been murdered on the job?
In the meantime, Marvin was forced to cast
his luck with the multiple cameras and alarms that festooned the
shop, electronic nuggets far more appealing to him than the angular
Heckler & Koch. The paradox all jewelry store operators
confronted was how to make their shop look appealing while
disguising that foreboding fortress ambience. Sprinkling rose hips
in the display cases might dispel some of the inherent sterility of
assorted necklaces and pendants, overpriced earrings and cufflinks
(Vernon stopped short of selling nose studs), not to mention the
omnipresent rings—but they never quite allayed the fact that
prospective customers were walking into a potential shooting
gallery, and that they knew it.
It was mid-December, time for the
next-to-final sprint of the Christmas shopping season, and the last
thing sellers wanted was a wintry blast laying open their
mercantile jugular. Virginia being a semi-tropical state, it was
not unheard of to see people outside in their shirtsleeves well
into January. But in the pre-dawn hours the phlegmatic sky had
begun hawking globular flakes that clung tenaciously to the roads.
The Department of Transportation, taken unawares, spurted feeble
wads of sand at key intersections.
When Marvin arrived, a man from the
snow-removal service under contract with the small strip-mall had
already cleared a path across the parking lot and had started
plowing individual parking spaces. When Marvin saw no other cars in
the lot, he checked his cell phone for messages. He scowled at the
only number in his inbox—his mother's usual wakeup call. She never
trusted him to open his eyes.
Uncle Vern had given Marvin a key and the
alarm system pass code, two items the young man had, up to now,
never needed to use at the beginning of a business day. Whenever
his uncle took off early to perform a charity function at one of
the state prisons, he left Marvin to lock up. But that was it. He
had been working at the Ice Boutique for almost a year, and never
once had Vernon failed to arrive first.
There was no need to be here, Marvin
thought sourly. People who shopped for jewelry in this kind of
weather needed their heads examined.
who spent good money on sterile rocks was
kind of loony, in his estimation. There were a million gizmos on
the market for cyberspace aficionados. Why buy something that
? Well, computers just
sat, too. But it was more than just a difference of degree. Or was
it kind? Marvin could never keep the two straight.
And which category did Marvin belong to
once he had opened up—and just
, dreamily watching the plow through the broad
display windows? Animal, vegetable, mineral...?
The snow laminated the interior of the
store with hundreds of glowing refractions. Everything seemed twice
what it was. Diamond anniversary rings, white gold semi-mounts,
silver pendants, sterling cutwork, heart pendants, bridal leaves,
sapphire golfer pins, stick pins, emerald pins, pinwheels...all the
crud the slurping public consumed to feed its self-esteem. At least
the watches were practical. And there were watches galore, although
Uncle Vern insisted there were no watches in his shop. These
confronting a particularly snobbish client,
. Baume & Mercier, Mont
Blanc, Jaeger-LeCoultre, all the names Marvin couldn't pronounce,
with or without the proper frenchified accent that Vernon
—whatever the hell
that was. In fact, Marvin had difficulty with the fundamental
category itself, which had an unfortunate tendency to emerge from
his lips as 'jewry'.
Even Marvin was impressed by the peculiar
reflection of the snow on the displays. But the initial shock of
the observation washed his frontal lobe of interest, leaving him in
a state of banal nirvana. He was not one to cherish quiet moments,
whether for contemplation or just to allow his mind to return to
its original blank slate. In fact, such moments made him edgy. His
fingers began dancing on the air, chipping away at an invisible
keyboard. One of the first things he did upon entering the store
was boot up the computer. On a typical day, whenever Uncle Vern
stepped out Marvin would catch a cyber wave and surf the net,
checking out the latest images of Megan Fox, updating his Facebook
page, sending out twitters—the content of which he forgot within
moments after he posted them. Of course, everyone had a secret
net-life, but so far as he could tell, his uncle only used the
computer to read emails and peruse a handful of job-related
websites, most particularly the wholesalers: Richard Cannon, A
& V Imports, A. Weiss and Son. Occasionally he would post bids
on GemFind, but Vernon rarely spent more than ten minutes at a
stretch on the office computer, a horrible waste of a Dell
Optiplex. He knew, of course, that Marvin used the computer, but he
was not savvy enough to check the web history.
This morning Vernon's absence so
disturbed Marvin that he lost all desire to fill in his wasted
moments with the kaleidoscopic mindsweep of the internet. To be a
take-charge kind of individual, you had to have the desire to
dominate your environment. Marvin much preferred to let the
environment scroll past him without extensive commentary. When
Vernon was out of the shop, Marvin showed a marked tendency to
defer to the absent owner. Vernon recognized this was bad for
business, but since he
take-charge kind of guy, he accepted his employee's lack of
self-motivation. There was no dickering whenever Vernon was on one
of his prison charity trips, which could take the better part of a
day. Marvin was to "stick to the price tag."
Marvin swiveled his eyes away from the
contractor's snow plow, plying back and forth like a huge,
hopping-mad insect, and glowered at the musical wine glasses
sitting on the front display.
of them, enough for three full
octaves. Totally impractical for a prison environment. Not only was
the expensive Reidel & Schott Zwiesel crystal at risk, being
placed in the hands of a crew notorious for breaking things, but
even a novice inmate could convert it into a nifty weapon with a
simple snap of the wrist. How Vernon convinced the authorities to
allow them into the prisons was a mystery.
With even more care than he showed for his
jewelry, Vernon would wrap up each wine glass in a velvet-lined box
and take them to one of the state prisons for Correctional
Education graduation ceremonies, wardens' birthdays and religious
holidays. All these and more provided occasions for him to show off
his jailhouse musicians. This entailed a great deal of training.
First he had to show them how to tune the glasses by adding water
with a touch of vinegar, then roughen their fingertips to produce a
solid tone. Sessions could last for hours—after all, Vernon
couldn't leave the glasses behind for solo practice. But in the
end, Vernon assured Marvin, his students produced perfect
When the musical glasses weren't on
display, they were replaced by framed pictures of the glasses with
little tags that said, for example,
High C—I'm away right now enhancing the lives of the less fortunate
in our society."
What a waste of valuable display
space! Vernon claimed this show of public virtue was good for
business. People appreciated charity, especially when it didn't
cost them a cent. Marvin was doubtful. You came to a jewelry store
to lighten yourself of excess expendable income or to max out your
credit card, not to be reminded that there were unfortunate people
out there who scarcely saw the light of day.
This belief was vindicated, Marvin believed,
when business slacked off dramatically. Of course, the entire
economy was tanking. Diamonds were not a girl's best friend when
all she wanted was a Big Mac and fries. The negative spin
represented by the glasses had more than once backfired on Vernon.
Why should those who had broken the law get a break? Why should
they be allowed a cute little pastime while law-abiding citizens
were struggling to survive? And while there was no taxpayer expense
involved in Vernon's musical groups, people had a tendency to link
them with the educational programs state facilities provided their
inmates. Look at that! These guys break every rule of civilized
behavior, and they're rewarded with a free education! More than one
would-be customer had stormed out of the Ice Boutique on learning
of Vernon's munificence.
Next on the schedule was the Christmas
pageant, in two weeks, when Vernon and his students pulled out all
the crystal stops for a program of holiday favorites. For now,
though, the wine glasses were tuneless reflectors of a snowfall
that showed no sign of letting up.
The man driving the plow either figured this
out for himself, or had a radio plugged in his ear and had learned
his efforts were futile. The parking lot was only half cleared when
he suddenly swerved out onto Staples Mill Road and chugged