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Paul A. Toth

Oats

It was so damn hot Deputy Timothy Gentry thought the moon might melt, craters dripping down the sky. Why had he driven out to the Eisenhower golf course? The kids still parked behind the clubhouse. Not all the kids, like in 1982, just the ones whose parents stayed married and had no unguarded bedrooms or dens. Gentry tried telling himself, "I can't go for that, no can do," but had already changed his mind. Hell, he hadn't gone looking since that last girl bit his wrist.

Earlier, when he parked his car at the police station, the Hall & Oates song triggered memories. It would always be 1982 for Deputy Gentry, with his still pubescent mustache and Hall & Oates cassette. He would get 1982 right, sooner or later. He had everything but his Member's Only jacket, which had departed this earth in 1998. Sometimes he even laughed at himself when he looked in the rearview mirror. Well, he did what he could with what he had, which wasn't much on either count. He was definitely Oates, olive-skinned and bushy-haired, not gawky Hall ten feet tall.

His tires shot pebbles across the glass-sparkled dirt road. A big bend passed over a creek seemingly filled not with water but moonlight. Left was a picnic area, right the clubhouse. A road circled to the golf carts in back where the high school kids used to park. Behind and above the club was the hill where as a little kid he sledded in winter and when a little older he watched high school kids feel each other up. In those days, there was nothing better than the heat in his crotch and the Hall & Oates in his Walkman headphones. He loved to watch those girls with their little pink bras: Maneaters. He wanted them every bit as much as he hated them.

As he turned the corner of the clubhouse, he saw not some 1979 station wagon, as he might have witnessed through the binoculars back in 1982, but a brand new BMW. These kids didn't even have to drive embarrassing cars.

They were special, all right, kids from still-married parents, a rare occurrence these days. The rest of them were doing it on sheets bought with alimony checks. They had every advantage in the book and yet here they were, playing the hormone jackpot machine, hoping for cherries. Meanwhile, Gentry had spent high school alone in his unguarded attic bedroom, the rubbers in his wallet rotting not from use but his own weight.

He opened his door and climbed out of the squad car. He walked to the passenger side window of the BMW and shoved the flashlight against it. It was her bra that caught his eye, a pink bra pushed up over the breasts. His flashlight stayed there until both kids noticed. The girl yanked her shirt down and buttoned her pants, which still contained one male hand. The hand disappeared.

The show was over. Tim knocked hard on the window. The girl rolled it down so fast you'd think she was the Bionic Woman. He even heard that Bionic Woman sound, jarring and abrasive.

"What's going on here?"

The guy leaned across the girl and said, "Is there a problem, officer?" He had big white teeth, except on one of the front ones there was a little brown stain.

"What's it look like?"

The grin became a pout. "We weren't doing anything."

"Your parents know you're here?"

"Yes," she said, at the same time he said, "No." Then she continued: "Well, they don't know -- can't you just let us go? We'll go."

"You should go home to your parents. Be glad you're safe. You don't know what could happen here. Anything could happen."

"Yes, sir," she said, and rolled up the window.

In two seconds, they were on their way home. Gentry was still thinking about that bra. He pulled around to the other side of the creek. The trees were darker, so thick they obscured the moon. He sat there thinking about that bra. He turned off the engine and the air conditioning. He rolled the window down and listened to the leaves whisper sweet nothings. The wind was killing the leaves and the leaves didn't even know it, and he was thinking of that girl's bra. He loved the sound of Oates' voice. He bet he could sing like that, if he tried. He did what he had to do and it took half a minute. He closed his eyes and everything smeared.

Back at the station, poor Sheriff Miller was sitting there with his clipboard. For some reason, Gentry felt sorry for Sheriff Miller. He knew the sheriff hated him. He couldn't blame him for it.

"What'd you get, Gentry?" the sheriff said.

"Slow night."

"Slow night?" The sheriff turned over a stack of tickets. "Deputy Miller set a record tonight. Something about that hot air makes 'em speed. But only if you're looking."

"Must be hotter on the north side."

The sheriff stared at Gentry with one brow so high it seemed it might stay there forever. "Deputy, you might get more respect if you shaved that damn mustache."

***

The next night, Gentry drove up to the top of the hill with a brand new pair of Sears binoculars. When he stepped out of the car, sat on the grass and raised those binoculars to his eyes, he might as well have been fifteen years old and still a mystified virgin.

He was still mystified, but no virgin. He had taken care of that with a woman who got kicked out of the academy. They had quite a thing for a while but she couldn't pass the exam and ended up leaving town. She was supposed to write him but he never heard from her again. He wasn't in love, anyway. He had a feeling she was always laughing at him. She didn't have to become a cop the way he did. She could rely on the old man's money. She was what Hall and Oates called a rich girl. She could rely on the OLD man's money.

At eleven o'clock, the BMW arrived. How he hoped the girl wore the same bra. He left his headlights off and rolled around the back end of the hill toward the BMW. This time when he held his flashlight against the window the girl was wearing a powder blue bra that wasn't even pushed up over her breasts.

He was not so much disappointed as angry. She could have known that a girl should stick to one kind of bra. When he knocked on the window and she rolled it down, it took everything he had not to say, "Goddamn it, girl, you wear that pink bra next time."

There was a second surprise. This time the guy who leaned over her, squinting in the light, was big and burly, definitely a football player. It dawned on Gentry that this was the girl's BMW.

"What position you play?" Gentry said.

"Position? I play linebacker. Why?"

"Favorite song?"

The kid shrugged. He was not the kind of kid who would shake or tremble. Gentry remembered his type well. They had done many things to him in the old days, but the old days were over. No doubt this kid had never heard anything but rap and metal.

"You Make My Dreams Come True," Gentry said, winking at the girl. "That's one of my favorites. Step out of the car, son."

"What are you doing?" the girl whined. "It's not against the law to park a car. I'll get a lawyer."

"Shut up," the guy said.

"Actually," Gentry said, "if you read the sign at the entrance, it says the park closes at dusk. As you can see, it's well past dusk. Hell, it's closer to dawn. Now, son," he said, really enjoying calling him "son" because, minus the gun, the kid probably could have beat him senseless, "let's just settle down. Is this your girlfriend?"

The girl sighed. Gentry wondered which one she was cheating on, but then the new fella straightened him out. "Nobody's cheating on nobody," he said. "It's high school. Nobody's married here."

"That's right," Gentry said. "Because if you were married, you'd take it home, where it belongs. But if it don't belong at home, it don't belong in this park. Got it?"

The kid stared at Gentry. "Yeah," he said. "I got it."

"Then get going."

As Gentry saw the girl straighten her top, he wanted to add, "And wear the pink one next time, sweetie."

He waited for them to leave, and then climbed into his car and drove over the bridge.

Five minutes later, he was done, and for a moment he was swimming in a creek of moonmilk, sailing back to 16 years of age.

After a while, he let the air conditioning cool his ardor and drove toward the park exit. He waited with radar gun in hand. Soon a car sped toward him just long enough to register a speed limit violation. The car slowed at the entrance, then picked up speed when Gentry turned on the flashers.

The driver pulled over. Gentry took his time getting to the driver because it was always fun making speeders wait. When he finally approached, the window was already down. He looked inside and saw one big white tooth and its brown stain.

"Well, kid," Gentry said, "where's your girlfriend?"

"Huh?"

"You don't know?"

"Uh-uh."

The kid was sweating as hard as drinkers dreading the breathalyser.

"What's wrong, kid? She cheating on you?"

"What makes you think I'm --"

"I got you clocked 15 miles over the speed limit. What's the hurry?"

"I'm late getting home."

"Curfew?"

"Yes, sir."

"Strict parents?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm sure they'd be disappointed to learn their son was speeding."

"Yes, sir, they would be mad."

Tim knew the kid thought he had the rap beat.

"That's too bad, son. You should have thought of that before."

He left him there to feel the punch of his statement. Ten minutes later -- because there was twenty minutes left on his shift, ten for the ticket and ten to get back to the station -- he delivered the ticket to Stain Tooth.

"I hope that's the last I see of you for a while, Ted Fitzsimons," he said.

Sheriff Miller was only slightly less aggravated that night. He bent a pencil between his hands as he said, "Well, I see our angelic population broke only one law tonight. Listen, Gentry, let me ask straight out: Are you on something?"

"No, sir. Stone cold sober, sir."

This statement seemed to annoy the sheriff all the more, as the pencil between his hands snapped in two. "I know you're not trying to be funny," he said.

"I'm not," Gentry replied with honest emphasis.

"Yeah," Sheriff Miller said, "I figured you weren't."

***

Weekdays were slow and devoid of clubhouse romance, so Gentry tried to win Sheriff Miller's trust, writing speeding tickets double time. Tuesday night, he dropped a stack of tickets half an inch thick on the desk.

"Jesus Christ," the sheriff said, eyebrow fish-hooked to the sky.

It was a long week. Each night, Gentry stopped by the golf course, but only those empty golf carts awaited. He left his binoculars underneath the seat because there was nothing to see but owls.

By the time Friday night came around, he remembered well those high school days when he had a crush and could barely stand the time between one class and the next. Watching through the binoculars, he imagined that BMW arrive a hundred times. It was a mirage, he figured. It was hot enough for one.

Did he care who would be inside, Captain Stain Tooth or Lughead the Linebacker? Not really. All that mattered was the pink bra, which by now, he hoped and prayed, would appear again like the April sun. But he was starting to think her parents had gotten divorced, leaving their daughter a private bedroom. Out of touch, out of mind.

It must have been midnight when he looked through the glasses, ready to give up the wait before it was too late to write even one ticket. That's when he saw what at first he imagined to be himself at sixteen years of age, peering back at himself through another pair of binoculars on the other side of the bridge. Only it wasn't him; it was Ted Fitzsimons, sitting in a tree right above the spot where Gentry had "made it" with his girl.

And then, on cue, the BMW came rolling between Fitzsimons and Tim. It was as if two enemy armies staring at each other suddenly saw a third and mutual enemy march into the divide.

The car made its way toward the golf carts. Gentry looked to see if Fitzsimons was staying put. The kid shifted positions in the tree. He wasn't going anywhere.

Gentry bet the bra meant even more to Fitzsimons. He wanted to show him something, what separated men from boys, or Gentry from himself when he was Fitzsimons' age. The kid had a lot to learn.

Once again, he drove with his lights off, only this time when he pulled toward their car, he flashed his brights, then turned on the low beams. He wanted the kid to see everything.

He walked up and saw, of course, Lughead the Linebacker. The girl had not yet undressed. Good. He was saving that for later. He knocked three times on Lughead's window and would have cracked it on the fourth if the window had not come down.

"Out," Gentry said, certain no one but the kid's coach had ever taken that tone with him.

"What the hell?"

"Now."

Lughead climbed out, hemming and hawing. The girl crossed her legs.

"I ain't interested in that,"Gentry said. "Let me just see that pretty bra."

She started to reach for the door handle, but Gentry punched the lock mechanism. He started pulling her shirt up and said, "I know you had the sense to wear the pink --"

But just as Gentry was about so see, Lughead jerked him out of he car like a piece of luggage and dropped him face down on the pavement.

"So the rumor's true?" Lughead said, looking not like a dumb kid but somebody's dad. "We can forget this now and nobody knows. Second choice, you file a charge against me, in which case I'll break your legs or wreck your career, maybe both. You're a pervert, not a cop. I'm always gonna know."

Gentry looked down at his gun. He sure could have. God, it would have been funny to see that kid's face when the gun came up and without hesitation sent a bullet like an end zone pass spiraling straight into Lughead's heart. He hoped Fitzsimons was watching. There was a lot the kid could learn from the incident.

"Ha ha," the girl said as Lughead climbed in the car and shut the door. "My boyfriend kicked your ass, you stupid pig."

As soon as they left, covering him in dust and gravel, he knew what to do. That damn Fitzsimons kid.

Gentry drove across the bridge. Fitzsimons was sitting in the tree, crying. Gentry grabbed his shoe and yanked him down like an apple.

"You remind me of me,"Gentry said, and started punching him. When he was done, the kid's face matched the stain on his tooth.

"Why?" Fitzsimons said, wiping blood from his mouth.

Gentry pointed at his own face. "These two private eyes see everything. Take those binoculars home and get yourself a new girlfriend. You wanna end up a goddamn pervert?"


Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan. His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and Best American Mystery Stories. His novel Fizz will be published in late 2003. He recently completed his second novel. For more information and complete credits, please see www.netpt.tv.

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