I was always a baseball fan, ever since my granddad signed me out of school one day to watch the Baltimore Orioles in the 1973 world series. In junior high, we collected baseball and football cards which I usually bought with my allowance, but as luck would have it, Bill Cooper had trumped me lately, outdoing every card acquisition I could manage. I wasn’t happy about it at all. Bill was two years older, already in High School and ROTC, and doing adult things. He smoked, he went out with girls, he stayed out late. He made sure everybody knew how cool he was.
My step-dad was stationed in Mannheim, Germany and had just been promoted. He was proud of it. I had to concentrate and answer the phone, “Taylor’s Quarters” every time it rang instead of the usual hello. I missed my grandparents, but I liked Germany. There was mystery in the forest and color streaming through the narrow city streets. The base offered just about every sport to military kids which suited me fine.
On a regular Wednesday afternoon, I found myself shopping at the Shopette. This was during school lunch, a fast and furious snack grab. I was scoping the chips out when I noticed the bubblegum packets with the sports cards. I really could use a new one. I looked at them, then looked away. There were a lot of possibilities in a bubblegum wrapper. Rookie players I might not have. I glanced at the clerk, sweat collecting on my upper lip. She didn’t seem to be paying attention. I hesitated too long. I grabbed a pack and went to tuck them into my pocket.
“Hey!” she yelled.
Somewhere from behind, the sweeper guy from the store grabbed my arm. I was apprehended, a bubblegum baseball card bust. The sweeper guy had a firm grip on me as we headed for the back office while the clerk called the military police. He opened the door, and the room looked so strange, so wrong. It was small and colorless with an adding machine, desk, filing cabinet and a couple chairs. It was The Room we never knew existed in a store, a room of narrow secrets and business deals. Bad bubblegum business. I waited for a time that seemed forever.
What would my parents say? What was I missing at school? What were they going to do to me? What would Bill Cooper do? I heard a woman’s voice.
“He’s in here, caught him red-handed….”
The door opened and two military cops walked in.
“So, we have a little trouble here?” asked the tall, blonde cop speaking to the clerk.
“Yes, we do. A theft issue. I will leave it in your capable hands,” she said and shut the door with a loud click……..