They peddled to Larry Coleman’s house and Mrs. Coleman answered the door. She told Rich that Larry was already at the Johnson’s. Rich and Sammy were a bit surprised because Larry didn’t know about the plans.
They peddled their bikes as fast as they could to Johnson’s. Parked in the driveway was Joe’s candy-apple red ’57 Chevy convertible – the envy of every boy and girl in the township.
“Joe’s there!” Sammy said. “Which one of the Johnson girls do you think he’s after?”
“All of them,” Rich said.
“Look at that car!” Sammy said. “I’d like to take a ride in it.”
They parked the bikes and on the way to Johnson’s front door, and ran their hands over the wax finish of Joe’s car. They knocked and Mrs. Johnson came to the door.
Mrs. Johnson appeared at the door with a friendly smile, however, her countenance dropped slightly at the sight of Sammy. “Hello, boys, how are you today?”
“We’re fine, thank you, Mrs. Johnson,” Rich said. “Do you mind if we come in and play some pool?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Johnson said with a frown. “Larry’s here and Joe too and Joe brought somebody with him – house rules, only one friend for each of the girls.”
“Exception?” Rich smiled.
“No, I can’t do that,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Try back later.”
Rich and Sammy walked dejectedly to their bikes. They mounted them and coasted down the driveway into the road.
“Your buddy Joe is a dog,” Sammy said. “I’d like to put a big scratch on the side of his car.”
“Yeah, a real dog,” Rich said. “I told him yesterday what I was planning, but he said he had to work.”
Sammy was talking about going fishing as they peddled back to Carpenter‘s Market. Rich didn’t pay attention, because of being disturbed by Joe’s duplicity. It was something he did with others, but to Rich’s knowledge, this was the first time with him. Rich thought of all the things he’d like to do, but the most pressing was to somehow get Joe and his friend out of Johnson’s house. Thus, making room for him and Sammy.
“Why are we going to Carpenter’s?” Sammy asked.
“I got a plan,” Rich said.
“What?” Sammy said.
“Just do what I say and don’t ask questions,” Rich said.
They coasted to a stop in front of Carpenter’s.
“Just go around behind the store and hide from the road,” Rich told Sammy.
“Why?” Sammy asked.
“Just do what I say and we’ll be racking the balls within fifteen minutes,” Rich assured.
“How?” Sammy asked.
“Just watch,” Rich assured him with a smile and hand on Sammy’s shoulder. “The master is about to go to work. Joe has met his match.”
Sammy walked his bike behind the store, just as Rich told him.
Rich walked into the store. Mr. Carpenter was still scribbling plays.
“Back so soon,” Mr. Carpenter said.
“Yeah, I need to use your phone and phone book,” Rich said.
He lifted them on to the counter and Rich looked for Johnson’s number and dialed it.
“This is Bill at the Texaco service station on Main Street in St Mary’s,” Rich said with a southern drawl. “You got a boy there, named Joe Deacon. Just tell him that his mama’s car broke down about a mile from this place and she wants him to pick her up, pronto. Can you give him that message? Thank you, Ma’am.” Rich hung the phone up and slid it and the book back to Mr. Carpenter.
“What was that all about?” Mr. Carpenter said suspiciously.
“I call it a trap play,” Rich said and walked outside. Rich grabbed his bike and ran it to where Sammy was hiding behind some bushes.
“What’s going on?” Sammy asked.
“I’ll be right back,” Rich said. He ran to the road and looked toward Johnson’s house, where Joe’s ’57 candy-apple red Chevy convertible parked proudly in the driveway. Soon, Joe and his friend were climbing into the car and backing out the driveway.
Rich ran behind the bushes.
“Just look between the bushes and tell me what you see,” Rich smiled.
Sammy ducked down and parted the bushes. His eyes widened and a smile lit his face.
“What do you see?” Rich asked.
“Joe driving away with somebody in his car,” Sammy said with amazement.
“Joe will drive to St. Mary’s, look around for his mom. He’ll be back in two or three hours,” Rich said. “His whole afternoon will be shot. If my math is correct, that leaves two open spots in Johnson’s basement and two open spots at the pool table. And most importantly, two Johnson girls without a boy.”
Sammy, Larry, and Rich played pool the rest of the afternoon. Mrs. Johnson also prepared some delicious ham salad sandwiches with a choice of lime or cherry Kool-Aid. The girls were charming and coquettish and the boys were gawky and gauche.
Later the three boys rode their bikes back to Carpenter’s Market. Rich picked up a bag of chips, another Double Cola, and paid Mr. Carpenter.
They all turned with the sound of a car skidding on the gravel and stopping at the gas pump.
Rich was shocked but quickly regained his composure. It was a candy-apple red ‘59 Chevy convertible. Joe got out and slammed the door. He grabbed the hose at the gas pump and began filling his car.
“I told that idiot, not at throw stones,” Mr. Carpenter murmured. “Hey, Deacon, didn’t I tell you about the stones before?” he yelled from behind the counter and through the screen door.
Joe waved his hand, “Yeah, yeah, I forgot.”
Joe burst through the door and slapped a five dollar bill on the counter.
“What are ya all agitated about?” Mr. Carpenter asked.
Joe’s entire body was stiff and lips were pursed tight. His knees moved back and forth as if he were extremely agitated. Mr. Carpenter took his time retrieving the change.
“Ya got three ones?” Mr. Carpenter asked. “I’m about out of ones.”
“That’s all I have,” Joe said.
“You boys help us out?” Mr. Carpenter said to Rich, Sammy, and Larry.
Joe turned quickly surprised to see them.
“How’s your mom?” Larry asked.
“That was all a setup,” Joe said.
Sammy glanced at Rich and said innocently, “What do you mean?”
“Yeah,” Rich said glancing at Sammy. “What do you mean?”
Joe walked toward them. He looked at Rich as if he knew the whole charade. Rich displayed angelic innocence, careful not to give himself away. It was Sammy who worried Rich. He was known for not keeping a secret. Sammy nervously spit on the floor. Larry gave him a sour look. Sammy quickly apologized.
Joe clenched his teeth. “If I get my hands on the clown who called me all the way to St. Marys…”
Mr. Carpenter interrupted, “Hey, Rich, who were you…”
Rich quickly interrupted, “Hey, I think I got five ones,” Rich rushed to the counter and winked at Mr. Carpenter.
Mr. Carpenter silently chuckled and smiled.
“My mistake,” Rich said checking his wallet. “I’ve got only three ones.” Rich snapped his finger and said, “I got it, let me pay for Joe’s gas and he can drop the money off here or get it back to me some other time.”
“Thanks, Rich. I’ll catch ya later,” Joe said walking to the door.
“Wait a minute,” Larry said. “What’s going on?”
Joe opened the door and turned around. “That call I got down at Johnson’s, it was a joke. My mom wasn’t in St. Marys and there’s no Texaco station on Main Street. I’d like to know who made that call, I’ll smash his face in.”
Mr. Carpenter said, “That’s pretty big talk. Ya better find out who did it. He may be a big guy. Did you actually take the call so you could identify his voice?”
“No,” said Joe.
“Well, there ya go,” Mr. Carpenter said.
“What?” Joe said twisting his face in confusion.
“Did you even hear the phone ring?” Mr. Carpenter asked.
“No,” Joe said.
Mr. Carpenter dropped his head and shook it. “You don’t get it do you?”
Joe looked at him as though Mr. Carpenter were daft. “What are you saying?”
“Mrs. Johnson made it up to get rid of you,” Mr. Carpenter said as if he just solved the whole problem.
Joe shook his head incredulously and waved his hand as he let the door shut. He kicked stones as he trounced to his candy-apple red ‘57 Chevy convertible. He was careful not the throw stones as he drove away but spun his tires when he pulled away from the stop sign.
“What’s going on?” Larry asked.
Sammy was more than happy to unravel the mystery. They laughed until their sides hurt. Mr. Carpenter loved the whole story, especially being able to be a part of it, by casting suspicion on Mrs. Johnson, who Joe would not dare confront, for fear he might lose visitation privileges entirely with the Johnson girls.
A week later, Rich was in the store and Mr. Carpenter was figuring how to defend against the trap play in his well-worn stenographer’s notepad. Rich pulled a Double Cola from the cooler and slid a quarter across the counter to him. He rang it up and tossed a dime change on the counter.
“That thing ya pulled with Joe last week, that was really clever. You ever think about coaching or a life of crime?” he said removing his glasses and leaning forward as if he wanted to hear more. “Where did you learn to be so sneaky?”
“From you,” Rich said.
He straightened up as if he had a muscle spasm.
“Don’t you remember,” Rich said. “You told me when you were in the Navy, in San Diego, that this guy was all set to propose to a girl you liked. You had fake orders typed up and the guy got on the ship just as it was about to leave port. They were three days out to sea before finding out they were fake orders. By then, you had already proposed to Mrs. Carpenter and she said ‘yes.’”
Mr. Carpenter’s small eyes widened. He raised his finger and pushed it tight against his mouth, “Shhh, Nobody knows about that one, not even Mrs. Carpenter.”
Mr. Carpenter opened the cash register, dug out a dime and a nickel and slid it across the counter to Rich.
“It’s called a trap play, right?” Rich said.