By Terry Sheils
Kenford Plaza was named with the usual imagination of
developers and rental agents. That is, it was at the corner of Kencaid Ave and Winford
Drive, in Winford Park, a subdivision, in turn, named after its builders Wendy Caiden and
Ford Parkin. So one should not have expected anything unusual about it from its
And, indeed, a listing of the nine stores that constituted the plaza would have led to the
Walking from East to West along Kencaid, the first business you passed was La Cafeteria,
its sort of French name suggesting an ambiance that was belied by its interior. The menu
was limited and the coffee was probably the only thing that wasnt knowingly cooked
in grease. None-the-less, it had its regular clientele, particularly before work in the
morning and later, once the beer was cold.
The next establishment was Sisters Cleaners, which was run by the Sisters, all
right; Bert and Frances Sisters, and prided itself - in loud letters on the steamy window
- that nothing was sent out. Of course what was not bruited quite so vociferously was that
nothing got quite clean either.
Then there was Viros Cards n Things, run by real sisters also, Violet and
Rosemary Spooner, spinsters whose independent wealth made it possible to run a business
that saw maybe fifty customers a year. Violet refused to have anything but the most
sentimental of greeting cards on the shelves, and Rosemary, who was in charge of the
things, no longer had any mind for inventory and was more interested in the comings and
goings of the other stores on Kenford Plaza.
The fourth store was periodically vacant. For some reason, or probably a variety of them,
no business seemed to last in that location for long. Rosemary insisted it was haunted and
that strange sounds could be heard through the walls after sundown in the Fall, but nobody
paid much attention to her.
In the middle of the nine stores, in more ways than one, was Marks Variety, run by
Joanna Mark, who, without quite knowing how, had become the spokesman, willing ear and
advisor to all the business people on the Kenford strip. No decision regarding the plaza
as a whole, or the relationship of the tenants to their landlord, Wendy Caiden, was made
without the approval of Joanna. It was a dirty job but...the cliché described reality.
The two barbers, Dom and Tonys was next, though Dom no longer cut hair, having
suffered a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair, and Tony had long ago sold his half
to Moishe Feldstein, a nice young Jewish boy. However, Moishe reasoned, no one would go
get his hair cut at Dom and Moishes and he looked vaguely Italian, so he easily
offered the name of Tony when asked by a new customer which one he was.
West of Dom and Tonys was Earthanasia, the Health Food Store, run by two aging
hippies, Verba Spyles and Neddo Rubens. No one knew their real names. No one cared. As
long as they didnt smoke their food out front of their place, they were pretty much
left alone. And they didnt get enough business to disturb anyones regular
customers...not in the daytime anyway.
Maxines House of Absolute Pulchritude was the second last place to the West and,
though Maxine herself gave a good try at living up to her business name, the
customers were farther out of touch than Verba and Neddo if they thought no one would
recognize them when theyd had a complete makeover.
Then, at last, on the corner of Winford, Lolas Fashions and Accessories, owned and
run by Frieda Schmidt, offered Cut-rate Gowns at High-Fashion Prices, in
contrast to the big mall stores which advertised just the opposite. That had been painted
on her window by mistake and she hadnt corrected it for, apparently,
Lola-Friedas honesty had a certain appeal. Her store was almost never empty. Of
course, she stayed open late on Friday night, when husbands would lurch the length of the
plaza, to buy a little something for the wife theyd forgotten to phone
before they dropped in to La Cafeteria for a beer.
Not much of a place, Kenford Plaza, one might think.
But if there were a million stories in the big city, to go along with a
half-million stores, there had to be at least ten stories at Kenford Plaza.
And how many stories can a reader take, after all?
Word of Mouth Security
Joanna Mark, who was the Mark of Marks Variety on the
Kenford Plaza, was losing money. Moreover, unlike the Spooner Sisters who ran Cards
n Things two doors East and whose trust funds meant they could exist forever
on the sale of one friendship card, she couldnt weather a period of hardship for
very long. In fact, twenty-four hours was about her limit, and it had been much longer
than that now.
Besides, while Vi and Rosie had only themselves to feed - and she suspected they ate like
the tiny birds they looked like - Jo had Henry Mark, her father, who, if he could be
compared to any flying thing at all, probably had most in common with a pterodactyl.
The problem had begun when Jo had gone a few rounds with the Big C and received radiation
in a place shed rather not talk about. Though she appeared to have won, the fight
had sapped her energy - for at least a year the doctor said - which meant that ten hours
at the store was all she could take. Shed normally been open from seven a.m. to
eleven p.m., but now she found that by five she was dead on her feet. Nor did opening at
nine or ten solve the problem, for it merely meant she missed the before-work purchases of
milk, sugar, cookies and coffee for the offices across the street, her morning papers got
stolen from outside her shop and, since Henry still had to have his bowl filled and his
cage cleaned before seven, she was still a basket case at five oclock. Closing in
the middle of the day was worse. Jo couldnt sleep when the world was at high noon.
But closing at five meant she lost the six most lucrative hours Marks Variety had in
The solution was, of course, obvious. Hire someone to work the evenings.
Obvious, but impossible.
You just try to find someone wholl work seven days a week from five to
eleven, she told the others on the Kinford strip mall. And they all scoffed, until
Peter de Angelis lost his evening waitress at La Cafeteria and tried to replace her.
Unemployment figures may be perfectly accurate, but the forms upon which theyre
based should ask questions like,
Will you work evenings? Those who have the youth and energy to do so,
Will you work for minimum wage? Those who will are incompetent and dont
deserve that much and the rest are young and energetic.(See Point One)
Thus when Nayed Mizrahi quit to open a parking lot in Algonquin Park or somewhere, Jo
found herself without her third evening clerk in a week and started shutting the store at
five, thereby guaranteeing herself daily losses for nine more months.
And her fathers stomach began to rumble, ominously.
Of course the other strip mall operators who were her friends were full of sympathy, but
they had their problems too, except for Vi and Rosie who thought the world was a Valentine
and Verba and Neddo, proprietors of Earthanasia, the health food
emporium, who were always testing their products for purity and whose minds were
thus regularly cleansed of all rational thought.
Everyone was full of helpful suggestions, like
Put a couch in the back room and an alarm on the door; thus, when someone comes in,
you can wake up and serve them.
Maxine, from the Beauty Parlor had even brought in a psychiatrists couch - God knows
where she had picked that up - and Neddo Rubens had hooked up an eco-friendly
alarm, so Jo had tried that idea...for exactly one night. The moment her head hit
the headrest of the couch, her eyes snapped open and the simulated tigers roar that
Neddos alarm emitted gave Jo the shakes for an hour and drove whoever it was into
the night, shrieking bloody murder. Jo had spent the rest of the evening trying to
disconnect the alarm; Neddo was no help, he was brewing a batch of Ecolixir from
ingredients hed bought wholesale from the Metro Zoo.
Then her father made the stupidest suggestion of all; undoubtedly his mind was weakening
with impending starvation.
Why dont you let me work the night shift? hed said. I mean,
I wouldnt demand any pay as long as I could have a quart of milk and a bag of
cookies - something not too fattening. And Id really enjoy talking to people again.
You realize all I do is walk around this house all day talking to the flowers and myself?
And Im not much more fun than the flowers; we both just drink water and slowly die.
And that dog you bought me was worse. He pretended to understand me and then cowered under
the stairs and peed the next time I spoke to him. What was my point anyway?
Her father was always rambling on until he lost the thread of where hed begun and
had to be reminded of it. But this time Jo wasnt going to help him out.
I have no idea, she said.
That means you disagreed with me...oh, yes, I suggested working evenings for you,
And, though you didnt give me a chance to do it verbally, I answered Not
Why not? You think Im incompetent to serve people? To make the right
change? Im only seventy-two. Im in fine shape. Six-three of lean and
mean, the Doctor says. I used to be an accountant. And my minds still sharp;
in fact, Im the one who knows just how far in debt we are...to the cent.
I know and no, it isnt that.
Whats wrong with evenings? I outlast you. I even did before the Big
C. I only need five hours sleep. You need about twenty-six a day right now. But Im
not offering that. Six hours a night. Thats my limit.
No bloody way.
Give me one logical reason.
Do you know how dangerous running a shop at night is? Robberies all the
You ever been robbed?
You know I havent. But the cops say armed robbery is on the upswing in
the suburbs. What would you do if a man pulled a gun on you?
Joanna emphasized her question by pointing her index finger at her father across the
Dining Room table.
Henry Mark explained his answer by grabbing her wrist so hard it hurt like hell and
dragging her on her face halfway across the table where he placed his other hand firmly
around her neck, his long fingers almost choking her.
Where...in hell...did you learn...to do that? she gasped. God, let me
go, youre...choking me...
Sorry. Henry Monk released her. I didnt hurt you, did
Just my ego. Jo felt the cheek that had been dragged across the
table and rubbed feeling back into her hand. I repeat, whered you learn to do
Only thing that dog you bought me was ever good for.
You practiced on Muffy? No wonder he cowered under the stairs and peed
whenever you spoke to him.
But itd surprise the hell out of the first would-be thief, dont you
think? Henry asked. And Id sure have him held nice and still for the
video to get a good look at him.
But they talk to each other, these guys, Jo argued. Once your
element of surprise wore off, theyd fill you full of lead.
Thats when Id spring Muffys Revenge on them.
Youd pee on them?
Worse than that. But its got to be a secret even from you. They have torture
chambers, these guys, and I dont want them using the Wheel of Truth on you.
What on earths the Wheel of Truth? Joanna laughed.
They strap you down and make you watch three days of Wheel of Fortune.
Youre out of your mind, Jo chortled.
Certainly. But I can run a friggin variety store. Please, Jo. You come in here
every night bushed and pass out. You realize, since your mother died, Ive really had
no one to talk to? Shes the last who ever listened to me.
No wonder. You drag her across the table on her face too?
Dont be funny. Give me a chance. One night. If I blow it, fire me.
God, Joanna sighed. One night. All right.
And you promise to stay home and sleep.
Stay home, O.K.
Dont worry. Youll hear from the cops if I have to use Muffys
Why doesnt that comfort me, I wonder? Joanna mused.
Youre starting to hedge...
All right! Jo threw up her hands. All right! Tomorrows
Monday...usually our quietest night. Come in before five to let me get to the bank with
the weekend money. Well see how it goes and take it from there.
In fact, Henry was so excited about doing something useful again, he actually came in
about noon and puttered around in the back room, straightening up the pop cases, repairing
the knob on the rear door (though Joanna wasnt aware it needed fixing) and generally
making her feel uncomfortable.
But it went swimmingly. Regular customers, seeing the lights on for the first time in ten
days, dropped in to see what had been wrong and naturally, not wanting to appear just
nosy, bought something. So, in fact, it turned out to be a better Monday than usual. And
Henry had no problems, except for the constant interruption of having to answer the phone.
But that stopped once Joanna finally dozed off.
In fact, at the end of the first week, the only thing wrong, Henry found, was that no one
wanted to stop and talk.
Its just in and out, like a buffet at a brothel, he complained. Adding
that the entire weeks output of verbiage on the part of the customers could be
transcribed on the head of a pin and still leave room for a slew of angels.
Fine, thanks. Sure is.
No kidding? That so?
A jug of milk, a loaf of bread...
What wilderness? Gotta go.
In fact it wasnt til the second Monday that the Kid came in and Henry knew he
had a live one.
The first clue was that, though it was a hot August night, the Kid was wearing a heavy
leather jacket. And his right hand was thrust into the zipper at the front, like Napoleon.
Halfway down the magazine rack from the front door, he pulled out the thirty-eight and
aimed it at Henry, the nose wobbling just a little unsteadily as he said,
Hand me over whats in the till, Gramps.
Henry Monk sighed.
Just my luck to draw an amateur, he said, almost to himself. Oh well,
got to start somewhere, I guess.
Whadja say? the Kid asked, looking puzzled.
I said youve got to start somewhere.
Meaning me? the Kids chin quivered, just perceptibly.
Of course, this is your first time, isnt it? Henry sat on the high
stool, his hands resting on the counter.
How...howd you know?
If you were a pro youd have cased this place and know weve already taken
our weekend take to the bank. Youd also know that Monday is a slack night, so
thered be damn little in the till. And youre holding that gun all wrong.
Whadja mean? Look, Grampa, I can fill you full of lead...
Not holding it that way. Recoil of the first shot would snap the barrel back at
either your face or your foot. That means your second shot would be either up your nose or
in your toe. Youd hurt so much thered be no third shot...and Id be
willing to bet, even at this range, your first shot would have missed me.
Look, just give me whats in the till, eh? the Kid said, stepping
instinctively closer to improve his odds of hitting his target...if he had to shoot at
Of course. Im not a betting man, Henry Monk smiled and punched
No Sale on the old cash register. Here.
He held the few fives and a twenty out to the Kid with his right hand.
The kid reached out with his left and suddenly found the wrist of his gun-hand clamped in
a vice-like grip which rendered his fingers instantly numb so the thirty-eight slipped out
of them. But the gun was forgotten as he suddenly scraped across the counter on his face,
dragged by his right wrist, and found his throat clutched by long fingers that threatened
to cut off his air supply entirely.
Now, you arent going to struggle are you? the man hed called
Gramps and who must be a cop in disguise, said softly. You want to continue
breathing, dont you? Twitch your nose once for Yes. Thats good.
And the young man found himself dragged completely across the bar and stood up on his
weak, oxygen-starved legs.
Can you walk? Twitch once for Yes. Good. In there.
Then he was walked by the neck into the back room of the store where there was a couch,
like a movie shrinks couch, amid the stack of pop crates and other boxes.
The old man let him go and the Kid had the fleeting notion to wheel around and slug him.
But, when he started to turn, he found he was dizzy and he fell onto the couch. And, when
he looked up he found the old guy was holding his gun.
As if he knew what he was doing with it.
Here, Henry Monk said, tossing a coiled length of clothesline
(three-ninety five for fifty feet) at the young man. Tie your feet to the legs of
Is that the only word you know? You speak English? Twitch...
Yeah, yeah... the Kid muttered.
Then tie your ankles to the legs of the couch.
When the Kid had finished that, Henry moved behind him and looped the free ends of the
clothesline around back of him, tying his wrists together. He had just finished when he
heard the little bell they had used to replace Neddos tiger roar.
Now stay put. Ive got a customer. And be quiet. This time of night, lots of
cops drop in for snack bars. Youd know that too, if you werent so wet behind
The Kid tested the ropes on his wrists as he listened to the old guy serving someone out
front. Yeah, he thought, theyre not all that tight. Coupla more customers and I
should be able to get free. Then I slug the old fart when he comes back and...
You on drugs? Henry Monk asked as he came back to the Kid.v
Good. That means we can have a sensible talk. Hate talking with drunks or druggies.
Anyway, good for you. If youre not on them now, stay off. They fry your brains. You
think Im kidding, stop by Neddos Earthanasia, couple of doors down the plaza
and try to buy something off them at this hour of night. Bizarre. And of course,
itll be later when you leave here.
Wh...when I...leave here? the Kid stammered. Oh, you mean when the
cops take me away.
Whether the cops take you or you just walk away, depends entirely on you. Be good
and well see. Anyway...what was I talking about?
Drugs, the Kid reminded him.
Oh, yes, Neddo and Verba. Watch him, Neddo. He gets argumentative when he gets
potted and he knows how to use a knife. Verba, she tends to sing a lot before she gets to
crying for the Universe. If you time your arrival right, youll catch Neddo chasing
her around with a knife, while she sings sad songs about pollution.
Sounds as if I shoulda hit their place.
Youd draw a blank there. Unless youre into grass and ragweed
nectar, Henry laughed. They dont use money. They accept only
Ecocredits, redeemable in the New World. God knows what they are. But back to you. We were
talking about you, werent we?
Not that I remember...
Sure we were. He waved the thirty-eight at the Kid. Whyd you
pack this thing?
To...to scare you, I guess.
You werent planning on using it?
I would if you made me, I guess, the Kid looked really confused now. None
of this was going the way hed planned.
Did you even load it? Henry looked down its barrel.
Of course I did. Dont you know thats dangerous?
Henry looked up from the nose of the gun.
Of course I know its dangerous, you ninny! he snorted. I was
handling these things before you were a sperm in someones orgasm. The question is,
do you know this thing is dangerous?
Of course I do...
Not to me...or your victims...what do you call them? Doesnt
matter. Not to them. To you. Use of this can get you life. You want life in prison?
Then why not just threaten to kick my teeth in? Assault and robbery are
minor compared to armed robbery.
Cause youd have beaten the shit out me, Gramps.
I wouldve, sure. In fact, I still might. But if youd caught my daughter
in here, shedve handed over all she had. But this thing... He waved the
pistol at the Kid again.
Would you mind not waving that thing around? It makes me nervous.
Scares the hell out of me too. Might go off and blow your head off. Oops, excuse me,
Henry Mark left the back room, pocketing the revolver as he went, and the Kid wrestled
furiously with the ropes on his wrists.
He had to get out of here, he thought desperately. The old guy was beginning to get to
him. Pretty soon, hed start to make sense. Or the kidd begin to hear strange
noises, or see things in dark corners or whatever, and thatd be when he knew his
mind had snapped.
Hey, these ropes werent tight at all!
Why, he wondered, hadnt Gramps been more careful to see they were? It was only
seconds before the clothesline slipped off his wrists and he bent to undo his ankles.
Then, as he could hear Gramps still serving another customer, he looked around for a way
out. He sure wasnt gonna hang around this loony bin any longer than he had to.
Thank God, there was a back door.
The Kid staggered stiffly over to the door, feeling the pins and needles tingling in his
ankles, and grabbed the knob.
And all hell broke loose just outside the door.
Recoiling from the most horrible roar he had ever heard, he fell over backwards on the
couch, striking his head on a pop case beside it. The last thing he knew before he passed
out was that hed peed his pants.
When the Kid awoke, it was with the vague awareness that he had been hearing a voice all
the time he had been out - however long that was. And, indeed, as he opened his eyes,
Gramps was in mid sentence.
...and thats the way I look at it. Ah, good, youve decided to join in
our talk, Gramps smiled down at him.
The Kid looked around for a third person and found only that he was lying on the couch
now, with his ankles tied again to the legs and the cord now wrapped around his neck, so
that any attempt to sit up cut off the air to his lungs. Moreover, his wrists were now
bound in front of him with duct tape (fifty feet for three-ninety-nine).
But you probably dont remember what we were talking about do
you? Henry Mark smiled.
What the fuck was that roar? the Kid suddenly remembered the last thing
Oh thats just Muffy, Henry smiled. Shes a...sort of kitty.
Somebody stepped on her tail once and she turned kinda vicious. I think she wants revenge.
So I keep her out there to guard the back door. Didnt realize Id need her to
keep people in as well. Anyway...what were we talking about?...oh, thats right; you
dont know. I know! I was saying that the tendency to social violence...or to the
willingness to use violence - like you bringing along this gun...
Put it away...
Certainly. Glad to oblige. The old man pocketed the thirty-eight.
That gun in my pocket...you only brought it along because this society hasnt
given you an outlet for your hostility. Its called War. I had Korea. My
father had the First Big One, my brother the Second World War. Youve had nothing.
Joining the army means youre a peacekeeper. What kind of outlet is
that? Thats why they went all stupid in Somalia. They had these guns.
Whyd they give you them guns if they didnt want them to use them? Give a kid a
toy and tell him not to play with it? And you havent even had that. Even those who
fought in the Gulf War are basket cases because that was a TV war. Even the killing was on
Monitors, watching images of missiles go boom. Nothing beats a good face to face
shooting...or the threat of one. So, young Kids like you go out to rob old men in puny
little stores, packing hardware like this...
Instinctively, the old mans hand moved toward his jacket pocket.
Sorry, I forgot, Henry apologized. Get much sex?
What business of yours...?
Whos tied up on whose couch?
What the shit kinda question is that?
Its important to know.
No. They say its not good for you.
Bullshit. Youve probably heard you go blind... Henry laughed.
You see me even wearing glasses? And thats all Ive got left now. You
should, you know. Ive got a theory that men who jerk themselves off dont go
firing guns. A gun is just a penis substitute. Its hunters who spread the rumor that
pulling your wire makes you too blind to shoot a deer. Thats why I call hunters
woods-peckers. But, I ask you, wouldnt you rather be shoving your dick
up a girls panties than this thirty-eight up my nose?
Jeez, the Kid thought, hes getting to me; hes starting to make a weird kinda
Then go get it. I want it too, but then I poop out. Im seventy-two, but
youre just a pup. So go get it while you can. Then youre too tired to go
around pretending youre going to shoot people. This gun...sorry...did I already say
its only an excuse, a substitute for a pecker? Yeah, I see I did.
Anyway, the act of sex is the culmination of the predators hunt for its prey...the
female. Youre not...gay, are you?
Then youve got no excuse. Know anyone youd like to...do it with?
Good. Going with someone already?
Better man than you?
I...I dont think so.
Good for you. Go get her. I had a girl I wanted once and I let her get away. Cute
little trick, always wondered what shed be like in the sack. I had many a wet
dream over her, Ill tell you. But while I was having those wet dreams, another
guy comes along and marries her.
Too bad, the Kid muttered. God, let get away from this guy and Ill never
rob a store again.
No, as it turned out. I married my late wife and had Joanna - you havent met
her...Joanna. Its too late to meet my wife. Fine girl, Jo. And the guy who took the
girl? He ran off with a model; said Sylvia - thats the girl I had a crush on -
was cold as a mackerel. Whereas my wife...well, thats no matter. Anyway Sylvia - the
girl I had a crush on - became an alcoholic. Know your father?
The Kid had been so wrapped up in praying for miracles - even to having a cop come in and
arrest him on the spot - that the question took him by surprise.
I said, Know your father?
Your real father?
Yeah, the fuckers my real father.
O.K. Point made.
Which is what?
Ive got a theory but its getting late and Ive gotta close up shop.
So think about it some day.
Yeah, like while Im serving time. Please just put me in a cell away from
motor-mouth, the Kid prayed.
The hell with that. Youve got a girl waiting for you to...boff her.
Think Ive got a chance?
Long as you throw this away. Henry patted his pocket.
Jeez, I dunno...
You wont know unless you try. Its not too late to give her a call is it?
Drop in on her?
The Kid stared at him as the implications of that sank in.
You...youre not going to turn me in?
What for? You came in. Gave me your gun, just like in the Westerns. Check
your firearms at the door. And then we had a nice chat...three and a half hours
worth...though you dozed through some of it. You should eat more fiber. Then I gave you
back your gun and you left.
I gave you back your gun. Whats the matter? Isnt it
Of course its mine...
You steal it?
Cost me fifty bucks.
Sell it back. Take the girl to dinner before you have your fun...
Are you crazy...or is it me? The bump on the head...
Here. Henry Monk handed the pistol to the Kid, butt first. Oh, just
to convince you were neither of us nuts, I did take the shells out. Now, get
the hell out of here.
The Kid stopped at the door to Marks Variety on his way out and turned back, his
face still vaguely puzzled.
Thanks, Mister...I think... he said. Its been... strange...
It has. Oh, and son...
Show your face in here again and Ill show you Muffy out back.
I...understand sir. Goodnight.
Henry Mark whistled his way all the way home that night.
How was business? Jo asked him.
Slow, he answered.
And went to bed.
Even after Jo was fully recovered, Henry continued to run the store at night.
For, as Jo told it, in all that time, though stores on nearby plazas got hit regularly,
and there was one, non-fatal shooting down on Wenpark Mall and Vis and Rosies,
for Petes sake, got knocked over for twenty bucks - Marks Variety was never
touched. And she couldnt understand why. The only thing she had that was different
from the others was Henry.
Still, apparently, word on the street had it that their security system would blow your
And so did electronic security devices take second place to good old fashioned word of