This is the first of several short stories featuring Myrtle and her telephone friend, name unknown yet...

Myrtle, You Just Never Know...

It just "shows to go you," like you always say, Myrtle, you just never know. Yesterday afternoon, I was minding my own business, like I always do. No, really, I was. I was on my way home from picking up some dry cleaning downtown, and I hit a red light. It was at the big intersection, you know the one, couple of blocks past Five Points where both streets are 4-lane but they meet at a sharp angle? Yeah, that one. Well, I only turned my head for a second, cause something caught the corner of my eye, and I saw it. What? Oh, it was a wire shopping buggy, like the ones down at the Piggly Wiggly, you know those kind? It was sitting on the sidewalk beside the branch bank. No, there's nothing strange about that, Myrtle, just hold your horses.

See, there wasn't anybody pushing it, or standing by it or anything, it was just sitting there. Well, the closest grocery store is a good half a mile from there, but it didn't look like groceries inside that cart anyway. From what I could see, there looked to be a conglomeration of stuff piled up in it. Looked to be a bunch of newspapers stuffed down in one side, I guess it could have been a magazine but it was probably newspapers. And there was pasteboard boxes and lumpy plastic bags, those shiny black ones like you take out the garbage in, well, like I take out my garbage in, anyway. I know you use those flimsy white ones -- and all that paraphernalia was sticking up out of the top of that cart, a good two feet probably. Well, at least a foot and a half, anyway. Huh? Well of course I was trying to keep my eye on the traffic light, Myrtle, what do you think, I wanted a rear-ender?

Okay, okay. What got my attention was, that stuff was wiggling. What it was, was a raggedy piece of blanket, gray or brown or maybe just dirt color, I couldn't tell for sure, an old army blanket or something, laying across the top of that stuff. And I swan, that blanket was going to town jiggling, sort of side to side in a jerky fashion, and a little bit up and down to boot.

Now you have to understand, I couldn't keep my eyes peeled on it, I had to watch out for the light to turn, but I swear that thing was moving. Yes, I know yesterday was a breezy day, you could tell it by the leaves all skittering around, conglomerated up on the edge of the sidewalk, where that "required-by-law green space" flower bed started. But you can't tell me a little bitty wind could disturb a blanket in such a way, no sirree bob.

Well, Myrtle, the thoughts in my head went running off in all directions. The front door of the bank, as you know, ain't on that side of the building at all, it's clear around the corner, and anyhow, nobody was on that sidewalk. Never is, actually. You recollect that corner, it just has that old boarded-up Esso filling station on one side, then there's the old we-fix-any-kind-of-appliance shop on the far corner, you know, across the widest part of the street? And then that dried-up triangle of weeds on the other corner where they sell cabbages and tomatoes in the summer? You know right where I mean. There was nobody to be seen, 'less they were inside that fix-it shop, but there weren't no cars out front, maybe around the other side, I couldn't say for sure.

Well, while all these ideas swam around in my head, the light changed and I had a decision to make. Anybody care if I was a few more minutes getting home? No. Anything urgent waiting on me to do it? No. So I just swung the wagon around to the right and hunted a parking place in the bank lot. It seemed pretty full, and I needed a good place to study this buggy for a spell and get my curiosity satisfied before I hit home. There was a couple of open spots but only one had a decent view, and then I'd have to shift sideways and crane my neck some. Well, I went ahead and took it and tried to angle the car in just a bit so I wouldn't have to twist around too much. No, the arthritis isn't too bad these days, long as I remember those pills Doc Whatchamacallit give me. Try to take one of a morning, and most days I do. Well, anyhow, Myrtle, I made it with an inch or two to spare, a mite close to the pick-up truck in the next space over, but he had plenty of room to get in his door on the other side, and anyway I'd be gone before too long.

Of course, about this time I was figuring, I don't have an account in this bank, and if somebody was to wonder why I was setting there, what would I say? I'm watching that old wiggly shopping buggy over there? They'd think I was nuts for sure, that's a fact. Oh, hush, Myrtle, you'd a done the same things as me, you know you would've. So, anyhow, I tried to keep an eye on that thing while I hunched myself up to look in the back seat for something, just to have some excuse or other. I could be waiting for a friend, that's it. No, I don't have any friends that do their banking there, Myrtle. That's beside the point. Listen up, why don't you!

Well, I was putting on my thinking cap. Keep the engine running? No, maybe my friend has some real business in there, maybe with the vice president, that could take a few minutes, always does with them vice presidents, don't it. What about listen to the radio? I twisted the dial, but my nerves were getting frazzled by now, and besides, I wanted to hear if there was any odd noises to go with that odd looking buggy.

I finally rummaged down in my handbag -- yes, I'm still carrying that oversize brown leather-look you give me last Christmas, Myrtle, it still does fine -- anyway, I settled on my own checkbook, I could be calculating my balance or something, in case anybody asked, maybe considering changing banks even. No, I didn't actually do it, how could I be figuring numbers and study that cart too? Be sensible, Myrtle!

Well, that stupid looking shopping cart just kept right on sitting there, and the wiggling seemed to stop, and I felt foolish even for me. But in for a penny, in for a pound, I always say, Myrtle, so I kept on watching a while. A few more minutes couldn't hurt.

Then, after a couple more minutes, this other peculiar thing caught my attention. There's this bench, kind of like a park bench, but with advertising printed right across the back. Well, it sets backwards to the bank, I know you've seen it a hundred time, out beyond the edge of the parking lot. It was just over behind to the left of where I was parked. I guess it was so people'll notice what bank they're at while they wait on a bus. Underneath that bench was a little brown box, like you ship stuff in, maybe a foot or so on a side, not quite square. But nobody was sitting on the bench, and from the looks of it, nobody would be for near to another hour or so. Why? Cause the bus didn't run but on the hour, and it had just passed the hour. So what was that box doing there, I had to ask myself. Trash? Possible, I guess, but it looked mighty fresh, sort of neat and tidy, all wrapped up in brown paper. That kind you put on when you're going to send a package or something out parcel post. Yes, it did, it even had string tied up around it. Does the string matter, Myrtle? No, it doesn't.

So here I was, with two weird things in the middle of what had been a perfectly ordinary day, when I had been minding my own business. Really I had, Myrtle, you know me! Oh, stop it and let me finish telling you. Anyway, another minute or two went by before I noticed the third, really strange thing. Nobody come out of the bank, and nobody went in. Now, I don't do business with that bank, but it's had a branch on that corner for quite a spell, and I know they don't keep buildings like that around if they don't do business, do they? So where was the customers? The parking lot had Buicks, and Pontiacs, several Chevies and Fords, some of those little mashed-in looking foreign cars, and I believe there was even a Cadillac. But where were the owners? Nowhere to be seen, that's where.

Well, about that time, I declare I begun to feel too big, Myrtle. You know the feeling, where you think everybody in creation's staring at you. That's how I was feeling after it dawned on me this third peculiar thing was going on. Right then and there I lost interest in that buggy, and I lost interest in that little brown box under the bench, and I lost interest in that bank, forever and ever, amen, and I cranked up my motor and I backed it right out of that parking place. I was evermore relieved to pull out on the street and ease the front end of my wagon into traffic, like it was a protection or something. I was tremendous grateful to get a green light at the corner, and I put that buggy, box and bank behind me pretty quick.

No, I didn't mention any of this when I got home, they didn't ask where I'd been, cause after all running errands round town take differing amounts of time, everybody knows that, so I just went about minding my own business, safe in my own house, putting away the laundry and fixing supper like always. But I sure pondered all them peculiar things, Myrtle, and they were decided peculiar, you'll agree.

Then I got up like usual today, fixed the grits and eggs like usual, and finally sat down to read the morning paper after everybody else was through with it, me and my second cup of coffee with the real caffeine, I'm trying to cut back some, but it's hard, Myrtle. The paper didn't have any big headlines, and I might have missed it if I hadn't been looking for it. No, it wasn't a story about caffeine, Myrtle, pay attention! Down at the bottom of page three, they have those stuck-in fillers and teensy one inch ads for work-at-home and such, there was a paragraph about that bank. Yes, the very same bank.

It seems this bag lady had shuffled in the door asking for a drink of water, it was a long way to walk, she was wore out pushing her buggy full of belongings, and could she please just have a drink of water. But it turns out the bag lady was really a robber disguised as a bag lady, and she wasn't a woman at all. And he was caught in the act, just as he tried to stick a gun in the face of the customer service lady.

It seems that the drive-in-window lady had got worried a minute or two earlier and had went and pushed the silent alarm. And this city policeman about to go off duty had just left the fix-it shop after picking up his old lady's steam iron, when he heard the call over his walkie-talkie radio. He come running across the street with his boxed-up iron still under his arm, and he stuck the box up under the bench before going into the bank building just in time to collar the bag-lady bandit. Ain't that something? He was a real hero, it says in the paper, and I guess he was that.

Um, um, um! Like you say, you just never know, Myrtle, do you? What? Why did the drive-in window lady get all nervous and hit the alarm button? Oh, well, it seems there was this shifty looking old woman in a beat-up old station wagon, parked crooked down at the end of the parking lot, and she kept twisting her head back and forth just like she was a lookout for a bank robber.

So of course just to be on the safe side, the drive-in lady just went and pushed that button, and that was all she wrote. I'm glad I didn't hang around, though. Too much excitement for one day! I don't hold with no bank robbers, not much with the police either, Myrtle, hero or no hero!

Well, by the time I got to the end of that story my coffee had done gone cold, so I didn't bother with the rest of the paper. I thought I'd just give you a ring and see how you was getting on. But I tell you what, now, I did cross my heart and make this little oath to me, myself and I, Myrtle. I will purely keep to minding my own business, cause you just never know, do you, Myrtle. You just never know.

Copyright 2007, Elizabeth G. Cox. All Rights Reserved.

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