Picture this...

By GEORGE MAFFETT | Published: March 14, 2011

The boy stared listlessly at the figure-eights he had traced in the dirt. He was drifting off, drifting into the no-land where things were and weren’t. He thought about packing up his Matchbox cars, and the little fold-out town of a carrying case he lugged them around in, but he didn’t.

From behind him, the rattle of dice in a tin cup competed with the dulcet tones of Italian for his attention. His father and his uncle’s weekly game of backgammon was a family tradition, as was the bottle of vino that accompanied it.

“Doble!!!” his father shouted, picking up the doubling cube and slamming it onto the bar.

Doble, the boy thought, as he picked up a tiny light post and, turning it upside down, slammed it into the carrying case.

“It sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard — on steroids.”

That’s what the guy walking the dog told Officer Deets when his cruiser rolled up to the corner of Mississippi and Landis.

The guy was obviously agitated and Deets couldn’t blame him. He would have been pretty spooked himself to be walking along the sidewalk and hear a metallic grating noise coming from two feet above his head.

“I mean… what the fuck does that, right? One minute I’m walking Pogo and the next minute I hear this fucking screeching noise right above my head and I think the fucking sky is falling. I grabbed Pogo and hit the fucking deck. And when nothing hit, I looked up and…”

His voice trailed off as they both stared up at the street sign again. To hear the dog-walker tell it, he was still relatively new to the area, so he had just looked up at the sign at the corner of Mississippi and Landis and had made the turn on Landis when he heard the noise.

And there it was. Someone — or some thing, if the dog-walker was to be believed — had upended the top of the street sign, so that the markings for the intersection were flip-flopped and turned upside down.

But to hear the dog-walker tell it, that was the least of their worries.

The game was getting toward the end now. The boy was aware that both his father and his uncle’s voices were a little thicker with drink… their Italian more of a slur than the gentle rolling from the start of the game.

“Acey-Ducey!” his uncle cried, pulling one of his men off the bar and bringing it in on his father’s home board. “Prenderò il doppio quattros! ”

The boy listened as his uncle counted off his double-fours, sending two of his father’s pieces to the bar. “Rinvii all'inizio, il mio fratello!”

Return to the start indeed, the boy thought, grabbing one of the dolls off the sidewalk.

“I’m telling ya… she was standing right fucking here… she was six-foot if she was an inch. Gorgeous! Legs to fucking here,” the dog-walker said, holding hand his just below his chin. “I’m watching her, trying to think of the name of that crazy old broad in the movies… the one with all them fucking dogs… when she’s….”

The dog-walker’s eyes were bugging out and Deets was thinking this call was going to involve someone from the psych ward at Scripps Mercy if he doesn’t start making sense soon. Granted, the upside down sign was legit, but what he was saying about the streetwalker, well, that just didn’t make sense.

“Cruella De-Ville! — It fucking hits me… that was the broad’s name… Glenn Close or Meryll Streep played her… but that’s what I was thinking, cuz this chick was decked out from head-to-toe in Dalmation… Dress, hat, shoes… the whole nine-yards…spots everywhere.”

“And then she just disappeared?” Deets asked.

“Fucking right she just disappeared! I was watching her ass bounce right in front of me. Pogo stopped to sniff at something so I looked down to yank his chain , and when I looked up she was gone… all that was left were these pumps…”

Deets looked at the high-heeled shoes and then down Landis toward Louisiana. There was a camera in the roundabout there. The locals didn’t know about it (yet), but he’d be able to see if this part of the story checked out.

“And what happened next?”

“What happened next?!! Whaddya mean what happened next? Were you listening to me?!! I’m watching a woman’s ass six feet in front of me. I look down for a second and when I look up, she’s gone… and these fucking pumps are skittering across the sidewalk.”

He leaned down to pick one up and Deets waved him off. “Don’t touch those. If there was a crime here, the detectives are going to want to photograph them.”

The men were cleaning up the board, stacking the chips and slotting them when they looked down at the boy playing in the dirt.

“What do you think he thinks about all day?” the uncle asked.

“Who knows?” the father replied. “His mother likes to say, ‘Who can know the mind of Todd?’”

The boy pushed a Matchbox police cruiser into position.

Deets told the dog-walker to sit and not touch anything. The second the man sat down on the curb, his dog came up and started nuzzling him. With that, the man burst into tears. Deets thought again about calling Scripps Mercy, but called for the detectives instead.

He looked up just in time to see a huge wave of Landis Street crumbling toward him.

“C’mon Todd, grab your stuff. It’s time to go. Your mama, she’s expecting us.”

And with that, the hand of Todd cleared all.

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