Tom Hanson opened the kitchen drawer to the left of the stove and pulled out a can opener. He was just about to apply said can opener to a can of condensed chicken noodle soup when a series of loud, rapid knocks landed upon his front door.
He looked wistfully at his soon-to-be dinner, but set the can opener down and crossed the floor of his living room.
The knocking had yet to slow or stop, and Tom swung the door open with an annoyed, "What?"
It was, of course, Penhall.
"Tommy," said Doug, rushing inside. "I need your help." He was clearly agitated about something.
"What? What is it?" Tom asked, alarmed, closing the door. A number of scenarios flashed through his mind: Penhall in need of money, Penhall in need of a place to stay, Penhall in need of some gullible fool to go on a double date with him because his own date "had a friend" whod just arrived in town. . .
Doug stopped his nervous fidgeting and faced Hanson eye to eye. "Tomorrows Judys birthday," he blurted out.
Tom blinked, the above-mentioned scenarios -- and their related fear-induced anxiety -- fading away. "Uh, yeah, Doug. I know," he said slowly, as if speaking to a five year old.
Penhall rolled his eyes. "Of course, you know! The thing is, I forgot. So now I dont have a present for her, and tomorrow shes gonna know what a total dweeb I am."
"Relax," Tom said comfortingly. He draped a reassuring arm over Dougs shoulder and steered him back towards the front door. "Judy already knows what a dweeb you are."
Doug pulled away and blocked the door with his body. A pleading look came over his face. "Cmon, Tommy, help me out here!"
"Whats the problem, Doug? Just go out and get her a present."
"But theres only about an hour left til the malls close! And you know Im not good at buying things for girls."
It was ironic, but true. Doug fancied himself a ladies man, but when it came to buying gifts Lord help him.
"And you think I am?" Tom chuckled.
"Well, with the both of us looking, well find something shell like in no time."
Tom hesitated, looking back into the kitchen. His chicken soup. . .
His stomach growled.
"Pleeeease?" Doug wheedled.
"What about my dinner?" Tom asked. But he knew that he had already caved.
Doug knew it too. He smiled broadly and said, "Ill buy you something to eat, I promise!"
Reluctantly, Tom agreed. "But Im gonna hold you to that, Dougie. Just so you know."
*** *** ***
Tom followed Doug outside and to Penhalls car. He pulled open the passenger side door, started to climb inside, and stopped abruptly. "Harry?"
Harry Ioki waved from the backseat. "Hey."
Doug trotted over to the drivers side and slipped behind the wheel, keys in hand.
"Howd you get roped into this?" Tom asked, grinning.
Harry grimaced. "I owe Penhall money. You know that Red Sox game ?"
Tom winced in sympathy. "Ooh, tough break."
"Cmon," Penhall called. "Enough gabbing. Get in the car."
Tom barely had time to buckle his seatbelt and slam the door shut before Doug put the car in gear. The tires squealed on the asphalt as the car shot out of the parking lot.
Rush hour was long over, traffic was moderate, so Doug pressed the pedal to the metal. A Chrysler turned into their lane, but Penhall merely accelerated and passed the car, swinging over into the oncoming lane to do so.
Tom gripped the dash with white-knuckled hands, and stared Penhall as if hed grown an extra head in the past sixty seconds. "Doug!" he exclaimed incredulously.
Harry, who had been tossed against the backseat during the drastic maneuver, grabbed hold of the backs of both front seats and yelled, "Hello? Important memo for James Bond! In America we drive of the right side of the road!"
"Weve got to hurry," said Doug, glancing back at Ioki. "The stores are gonna close in an hour." But, seeing the mutinous looks on his friends faces, he did slow the car slightly.
*** *** ***
With trembling hands, Tom Hanson let go of the dashboard and fumbled with his seatbelts release mechanism. Penhall cut the engine, and Tom snatched the keys from his hand before Doug could pocket them. He pointed a finger in Dougs face. "You are not driving on the way home."
"Sheesh," Penhall muttered as Tom pushed open the car door and climbed out. Harry exited next, looking somewhat carsick.
Shortly thereafter, the trio stepped through the large malls pane-glass doors and stopped to investigate their options.
"All right, fellas," said Penhall, looking at the many stores. "Where to first?"
"You promised me dinner," Tom prompted with a look that said, We-dont-do-anything-unless-I-get-some-food.
"O-o-kay," Doug breathed in an acquiescent singsong voice. He looked around again, then pointed. "There, it looks like theres some food over by that shoe store." He led the way.
"Marios Munchies," Harry said, reading the sign over the food kiosk. "Cute."
"What do they have?" Tom asked. He squinted and tilted his head, trying to discern the handwritten menu.
Doug squinted too. "Oh ... they have those little things. You know ... full of ... stuff."
Toms stomach growled and he sighed in defeat. "Okay, fine." He stepped up and, taking a risk, ordered Number Two on the menu.
"Okay, Harry," said Doug.
Doug nudged him towards the counter, behind which a bored-looking, bushy-haired man stood watching them. "Pay the man." Harry just stared at him, so Doug added, "You owe me, remember?"
Grumbling, Harry pulled out his wallet and paid the Marios Munchies clerk.
Tom stared at the plastic plate that was handed to him. Penhall was right. They were, in fact, little, warm, soggy pockets of pita bread with stuff inside. He gingerly picked one up, sniffed it, and frowned. It didnt smell especially awful, but . "Hey, Harry," he said, cheerfully. "Want one?" He held the plate out in offering.
Harry stared at the pile of stuffed bread. "Uh, no thanks."
Penhall grabbed hold of each of their arms and said, "You can eat on the way. Lets go."
Thinking, 'What the hell,' Tom shoved a stuffed pita in his mouth and allowed himself to be led away by Penhall.
*** *** ***
They stopped just outside of yet another store, a womans clothing store this time.
Harry looked apprehensively at the feminine fashions displayed in the windows. He turned to Penhall and said, quite seriously, "If I end up in a store with anything purple and fuzzy, I will get the mall cops to beat you."
"What was wrong with the last place?" Tom demanded, slurping soda through a colorful straw. "Judy likes music."
"Yeah . . . but musics so boring," Penhall said. He walked into the store and over to a nearby rack of sweaters and proceeded to thumb through them one by one.
"What about the hat store?" Harry asked
"I dont know her head size."
"The candle shop?" Harry said.
"The jewelry store?" Tom offered.
Doug cringed. "Too expensive."
Harry and Tom sighed and glanced sympathetically at each other.
"Hey, how about this?" Doug asked, grinning, holding up one particularly purple, fuzzy sweater.
Tom was in the process of taking another drink of soda when he saw it, and he laughed out loud, inhaling Coca Cola down the wrong pipe. As he gasped and coughed, Harry pounded him none too gently on the back and said threateningly to Doug, "Dont tempt me, Penhall."
Grinning, Doug replaced the sweater and moved on to a different part of the store.
Harry stopped his pounding, and Tom managed to get his choking under control, wiping away tears from his eyes. He smiled. "Thanks, Har." His tone of voice changed to one of contemplation. "You know, I think that sweater would actually look pretty good on you."
Harry glared at him and snatched the Coke from Toms hand. He turned and followed Penhall. Tom trailed after him, grinning.
They found Penhall in the worst possible place in which they could have found him: the sleepwear section. He stood amidst the racks of lacy lingerie, holding up a long cotton nightgown and frowning in concentration. When Tom and Harry arrived, he looked up.
"Hey, guys," he said. "Do you think Judy would like a nightgown?"
Ioki shrugged. "I dont know. Dont you think shes already got one?" He shifted uncomfortably under the curious gazes of several female customers.
Doug held the pale pink nightgown up to his own body and asked, "Do you think this is the right size?"
Tom stared at Penhall, the sight before him conjuring up horrible images of his friend in such a garment. "This is creepy on a level I hardly knew existed."
"May I help you, gentlemen?" a voice asked. It was a saleswoman. She was tall, willowy, with frosted silver hair, and she looked skeptically at the three men while at the same time maintaining the polite smile on her face.
Doug quickly hung the nightgown back on the rack and folded his hands behind his back. "Uh, no thanks, maam. Were just looking for a gift for a friend."
"Oh," said the woman, and her smile became a little less forced. "Well, perhaps I can help you find what youre looking for?"
The three cops assured her that they were just fine and, embarrassed, left the store.
Out in the mall corridor, Harry scowled and whacked Doug on the arm, and he and Tom walked off towards the next shop without him. Doug stared after them and exclaimed, "Hey, what was that for?"
*** *** ***
"Okay," Doug said. "Weve got about fifteen minutes before the mall closes. If we dont find anything here, well have to try someplace else."
Tom, Doug, and Harry were gathered outside of a small shop. Tom crumpled his now-empty bag of chips and tossed it in a trashcan, and they entered an accessories store that was named, oh-so-cleverly, The Accessories Store.
After five minutes of intensive searching, Penhall let out a victorious shout and hurried over to Tom and Harry, who were conducting their own search. In his hand, he held a long, silky, baby blue-and-heather gray scarf. He started for the register.
"Good work, Doug," Harry said, and smiled in relief.
"Finally," Tom sighed.
But Doug just looked at the scarf for a minute, realizing something. 'Oh, crud,' he thought. Panicked, he turned the scarf over and over in his hands. "Hey, theres no tag on this. Come on, guys, you gotta help me find another one."
He rushed back into the right section and scanned the racks of scarves, gloves, and other assorted things. At the exact same moment that Harry held up an identical scarf, the three of them heard a male voice say, "All right, no funny stuff. Just hand over the money."
The Jump Street cops looked at one another in disbelief, all thinking the same thing: What moron would want to rob an accessories store?
Penhall rolled his eyes heavenwards 'So close' and crept to the end of the shelving unit. A single perp, dressed in black, no mask, stood in front of the cashier counter. He was young, with pale blond hair. And he was armed. The kid nervously held his gun trained on the young clerk as she opened the cash register.
Turning to his partners, Doug held up one finger to indicate the number of perpetrators with which they were dealing. Tom and Harry drew their weapons. Doug nodded in agreement and did the same.
Doug stepped out into the open, gun up and ready. "Hey, you," he said loudly. Behind him, still out of sight of the robber, Harry and Tom covered Doug with their own weapons.
The robber whirled around, a look of surprise on his face. Hed most likely figured that there would be no customers in the store five minutes from closing.
"Yeah, Im talking to you, numbskull. Im a cop, so just put down the gun, okay? Just put it down."
The kid looked at the gun in his hand as if he had forgotten it was there. Instead of setting it down as ordered, however, he raised it and shook it a couple of times at Penhall, taking a step towards him. "You stay back!" he commanded, his voice tense.
"Just calm down," Doug said. He held his aim steady.
"Calm down?" the robber said. "Calm down? I just got out of the slammer three months ago. My girlfriend of two years got married while I was away, to my brother. Plus, I just lost my job, and my parole officers on my case. So dont tell me to calm down!"
Doug exhaled noisily. "Oh, cry me a river, pal. Ive been shopping all night for the perfect birthday gift, Im tired, and frankly Im a little cranky. I finally found the right present, and you go and pull a stunt like this. So thanks. Really, man. Thanks a lot."
During his mini tirade, Doug had dropped his gun to his side in an effort to put the robber off guard. It worked; the kid unconsciously relaxed his stance. In one quick maneuver, Doug leapt forward and forced the gun from the kids grasp.
"Hey!" The would-be robber tried to take the gun back, but Doug quickly silenced his efforts with a solid punch to the jaw. The kid hit the floor with a thud.
Penhall holstered his weapon, stuffed the robbers gun in the back of his belt, and loosely shook his left hand in an attempt to work the pain from his knuckles. "Damn, that hurt."
Tom and Harry emerged from behind the shelves, also holstering their weapons. Tom walked over to Doug and patted him on the back. "Nice going, Dougie. Although . . . you might want to work on your left hook. It was a little sloppy. Dont you think, Harry?"
"A little bit," Harry agreed.
"Shut up," said Doug, frowning.
Harry said to the young clerk, "Are you okay, maam?" Her eyes were wide, and she was shaking slightly, but she nodded.
Just then, two Mall Security officers arrived, guns drawn, apparently having been alerted to the situation by a passing shopper.
"Whats going on here?" the large, beefy one asked.
Doug showed the security guys his badge. "Were cops. This jackass tried to rob the place." He nudged the still form of the robber with the toe of his shoe, and the kid groaned, beginning to wake up.
*** *** ***
Fifteen minutes later, the cops arrived to take away the perp. Tom, Doug, and Harry gave brief statements, promising to go to the station the following day in order to give more detail. The young clerk was taken to the police station to give her summary of events.
Tom, Doug, and Harry trailed the cops, security guys, perp, and clerk out of the mall and into the parking lot. The parking lot was quickly emptying, now that the stores were all closed. The cops, perp, and clerk soon left, and the security guys returned to the mall. The Jump Street cops were the only ones left standing in the lot, and as one they turned towards Penhalls car.
"We should stop and get something to eat," Tom suggested.
Harry looked at him askance. "Youve been pigging out all night, at my expense I might add."
Tom shrugged. "You could have gotten something to eat, too, if you wanted."
"How could I? Im practically broke now, thanks to your bottomless pit of a stomach."
Tom pulled out the car keys from his pocket and unlocked the drivers side door, saying, "Har-dee, har har."
Ioki claimed the passengers seat, Penhall ducked into the backseat, and Tom started the engine and eased the car out into the street.
As he drove, Tom glanced at the rearview mirror. Penhall was quiet. He sat looking out the window, and from the look on his face he seemed to be trying to figure something out.
Tom stopped the car at a red light and, curious, said, "Hey, whats up, Doug?" Harry glanced back at Penhall as well.
"I dunno," Doug said with a shrug. "I got this feeling that were forgetting something."
Tom and Harry looked at each other, then at Doug. Doug stared back at both of them. Two seconds of silence filled the car, followed instantly by a chorus of exclamations as they all reached the same conclusion: in the ruckus back at the mall, they had completely forgotten about Judys scarf.
"No. Oh no."
The End :-)