We’re rounding out a week of talk about the written word in the form of poetry, prose and storytelling. We hope you’ll enjoy this reader written short story that was submitted to us by John Taylor. Check back tomorrow for the results of this week’s poll, and don’t miss this week’s upcoming Sunday Spotlight.
The Briefcase Caper
Our local high school schoolyard was used to play baseball, football, stickball, freedom (a game of tag) …you get the idea, even if it was a parking lot. The fact that it was a school parking lot during the day didn’t matter, it was our neighborhood playground. Summertime, when school was out, was our favorite time to play, with no cars interrupting our games. It was here that the briefcase caper became part of the scene of a crime.
One summer day in the late sixties, I found a briefcase that led to a scary confrontation with the local police, a possible trip to the local police station, for my Mom, brother and I, via a police car. Not cool for a twelve year old kid to go to jail.
The schoolyard was a full city block. Two sides were bordered by a five foot high spiked fence with a gate in the middle to allow cars to drive in and out. One side, bordered by an eight foot high chain link fence separating the row homes, their yards face the schoolyard. The school is about seven stories high, except for a short two story section of the building facing the schoolyard. The shorter building has a chain link fence that rose to a second story roof that seemed to steal all of our well hit baseballs.
If someone, usually me, climbed the fence to the second story, one would liberate all the lost baseballs and sometimes other treasures. When I would climb the fence to the roof, I would generally find a treasure trove of hardballs, softballs, pimple balls (air filled rubber balls common to Philly), occasionally a football or two, a basketball and/or occasionally a treasure. Since I was risking life and limb, my brother and I would generally keep the best conditioned balls. The remainder of the balls, I would toss to whoever was on the ground.
It was one of these summertime days of playing baseball, after scaling the fence to get a ball we roofed during a baseball game, I scoured the roof for other lost balls. Finding several balls, I tossed the best ones to my brother, Wilbert. The remainder, I tossed to other kids in the yard. Just before I was going to climb down, I saw something in the corner, near a window. I walked over and sitting in the corner was a perfect looking briefcase. The briefcase was partially open and inside was a bunch of papers, pencils and pens. Did someone toss this on the roof? Did someone toss it out the window? Why get rid of a perfect briefcase. Since school was over for the summer, there was no one to ask. Well, “finders keepers, losers weepers” was the law of the land in my neighborhood. I remember thinking, what a great place to store my comics and baseball cards, a briefcase!
By now I started to hear Wilbert yelling, “Johnny, what are you doing up there? We’re gonna be late for dinner and Mom is gonna ground us. Let’s go!”
I yelled back, “I just found something really cool. I’ll be down in a minute.”
I looked into some of the windows and no one was in the school and all the lights were out. Hearing Wilbert continue to yell, I figured it was time to leave before he drew a crowd. I went to the fence and showed Wilbert what I found.
He said, “Cool!”
Now I thought how do I climb down with the briefcase and not fall to my death? I yelled down to Wilbert, “I’ll get to the top of the fence and drop the briefcase down. Don’t drop it.”
I climbed to the top, dropped it to Wilbert and he made a great catch. I said, “It’s a shame you can’t catch a baseball that good.”
He replied, “If you don’t want me to take the briefcase from you, I’d shut your face.”
On our way home Wilbert asked me was there anything in the briefcase. I replied, “Yeah, some papers, pencils & pens. I left the papers on the roof and kept the pens and pencils.”
Wilbert asked, “Why did you toss them?”
I said, “They looked like test papers or notes, since school is over, I left them on the roof.”
As we walked home, we ran into some our friends. They wanted to know what I was doing with a briefcase. Some of the kids were laughing at me. I told them I found it on the schoolyard roof, while looking for baseballs, and what I planned to do with it. They stopped laughing and thought it was real cool to have the briefcase hold comics and baseball cards. A couple of them wanted to buy it off me. “No way!” I said.
As Wilbert and I walked up the street to our house, Wilbert said something I didn’t think of, “How are you gonna get that in the house without Mom seeing it? You don’t wanna tell her you found it on the roof! She’ll cream you and take the briefcase off of you.”
“Crap!” I then told Wilbert, “…you go in first and I’ll sneak it up to our bedroom and hide it.”
No sooner did we get in the front door, when Mom came out of the kitchen and saw us walk in. “You’re almost late for dinner,” she said. Mom’s eyes squinted as she looked in my direction, then at the briefcase; there was no way to hide the briefcase now. With an obvious frown on her face she said slowly, “Where did you get that briefcase?”
“I found it.” I answered.
“Where?” Mom said sternly as she walked towards us.
Nervously, I said “In the schoolyard.”
“Tell me the full story.”
I didn’t want to tell her I climbed on the roof, because I didn’t want to get slapped upside the head and get grounded, so I just told her I found it in the schoolyard. This way I wasn’t lying, the roof was in the schoolyard, although two stories up in the air. As Mom was standing in front of me looking down at me, I looked over at Wilbert, and Mom said, “Don’t look at him, I’m asking you how you ended up with a briefcase that looks almost brand new.” She looked at my brother and said, “Go into the kitchen while I find out what happened from him and I’ll ask you about it afterwards.”
Wilbert gulped and slowly walked into the kitchen. As he walked away, he made a goofy face at me then proceeded to take his right hand and made a motion that looked like he was cutting his throat. I looked up at Mom as she said, “It didn’t fall from the sky, that briefcase belongs to someone.”
I replied, “Well you know what they say, finders keepers, losers…” Before I could finish the statement, Mom whacked me across the top of my head. I could hear Wilbert giggling in the kitchen. Mom turned slightly towards the kitchen and yelled, “That’s enough from you, and you’re next!” Turning to me she said, “And what were you planning to do with it?”
“I thought it would be a cool place to put my comic books and baseball cards.”
Mom replied, “That’s what shoeboxes are for. Once again, it didn’t fall from the sky, it belongs to someone and we need to find out who it belongs to. Someone lost it and is probably looking for it. If you KNOW it belongs to someone else and you take it, what does that say to you?”
As tears filled my eyes, I just kept silent. Mom leaned over and said, “It’s the same as stealing it yourself. Hand it over and let’s see if we can find out who it belongs to.”
I handed over my newfound treasure, knowing it would never hold my comics or baseball cards. My friends will surely laugh at me now. As Mom opened the briefcase and started to look into it, the doorbell rang. As I stood there, Mom looked at me and said, “You gonna answer that?”
I turned around and peeking out from the kitchen was Wilbert making a goofy face. Mom yelled to Wilbert, “Don’t think I can’t see you there.” I whispered under my breath, “Man she’s got eyes behind her head.”
Mom whacked me in the head again saying, “I heard that, now answer the door!” I wiped my eyes and headed for the door. Opening the door, my friend Skipper was standing on the stoop and said, “I thought you would want to know, the police are in the schoolyard. They were responding to a break-in at the school. A few kids said they saw you come down from the roof and that the Taylor brothers walked away with a brand new briefcase. The police are looking for Wilbert and you right now.”
I didn’t have time to think or duck, as Mom’s open hand headed for the back of my head. I could hear and feel the smack to the back of the head. WHACK! THUD! The whacks were getting harder. In the background I could now hear loud laughter from both Skipper and Wilbert. Mom was now screaming, “You were on the roof? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you trying to kill yourself or drive me crazy? You just got done telling me you found it in the schoolyard!”
I couldn’t think fast enough, maybe due to all the blows to the head I just received, but responded, “The roof is in the school yard.”
Mom just stared at me!
Mom now yelled towards Wilbert, “Get over here!” As he walked over he gave me the evil eye. I thought that when this is all over, he’s gonna kick my butt. He hits harder than Mom and when you least expect it.
“Were you with him while this was all going on?”
“And you didn’t think of stopping him?”
Extremely slowly, he inched out the word, “No!”
WHACK! THUD” Wilbert was knocked back slightly. Mom’s now yelling, “You’re older than him, and I would have thought you had more common sense, but I guess I was wrong.”
Mom said, “Stay right there, I need to turn dinner off. We’re going over to the schoolyard right now.” Wilbert glared at me, mouthing the words, “You’re dead meat, you moron!” As Mom walked back towards us, still carrying the briefcase, she looked like she had steam coming out of her ears, like you see on cartoons. I had to stifle a snicker for fear of getting another whack in the head. With the briefcase in her right hand and my right ear in her left hand, we quickly left the house. Mom looked back at Wilbert said “Lock the door and follow us, NOW!”
As Wilbert locked the door, he said something to Skipper that had him laughing his head off. Wilbert quickly caught up with us.
What a sight, Mom walking briskly down the street. Briefcase still in one hand, my ear in the other and Wilbert walking behind us (no doubt making goofy faces) with Mom muttering to herself the whole way. Neighbors were either outside on the stoops, at their windows or at their front doors watching in amazement. Around the corner we stormed, rather Mom dragging me in this parade towards the schoolyard. We could see the flashing lights of the police cars. Yup, more than one police car needed to get the Taylor criminals. As we approached the schoolyard, I could see one police car in the entryway of the schoolyard and another near the fence I climbed. I could see at least one police officer was up on the roof.
There was already a small crowd forming in the yard. Suddenly, I saw one of my “friends” standing next to an officer, turn and point in our direction. As the police officer turned in our direction I noticed that I was starting to cry. My chest felt like it was gonna burst. As we walked into the schoolyard, the officer started to walk towards us. My Mom still had a vice grip on my right ear. I wondered if I would be able to hear from that ear when this was all over, if I lived. As we approached the officer, Wilbert looked at me and laughed out loud. Mom froze, FINALLY letting go of my ear, turned slowly towards him saying, “You’re half the problem, I wouldn’t laugh.” his face froze!
The officer walked up to my Mom and said, “May I help you?” Mom started to tell the story of what happened, minus the multiple blows to our heads. The officer now looked at me, crouched down so we were face to face and said, “Now, you tell me what happened?” I just cried out loud. The crowd was now all around us and I was getting more scared and embarrassed. Mom and the officer calmed me down and I told him EXACTLY what happened.
It was then that the officer that was on the roof approached us and said, “We got a problem. The school was broken into from the roof. There is a broken window up there and one of the classrooms was trashed. The investigators are still assessing the damage and determining what was stolen.” He then pointed in the direction of the roof where I found the briefcase. “Neighbors say that they saw two boys on the roof, break the window and came out with what looked like a briefcase. Once they called police, the boys were gone.”
As Mom and the officer turned and looked at Wilbert and me, the officer said, “Hmm, and your two boys show up with a briefcase.”
I cried out, “I didn’t break the window, I never even saw any broken windows; I found the briefcase up there as I was picking up the balls off of the roof!” Now looking scared and no longer laughing, Wilbert yelled, “I was never on the roof!”
Now I was in a total panic.
Then the officer, looking directly at my Mom, said, “I think we’ll need to take you all to the station for questioning. Mrs. Taylor, do you have a lawyer?” My Mom’s face went blank. The officer looked past me yelled, “Where do you think you’re going?” As I turned around, I saw Wilbert slowly walking towards the gate to the street. Wilbert turned and said, “I’m hungry, I’m going home to eat dinner.” The other officer, walking briskly towards Wilbert said angrily, “The next meal you have may be in a prison cell. Get your ass over here.” My Mom was too stunned to say anything back to the officer. I saw fear on my brother’s face and was sure there were tears welling up in his eyes, as the officer gripped Wilbert by the shoulder, leading him back to where we stood.
I could see that Mom was worried. She said to the officers, “We came here on our own. Once my son told me he found the briefcase, I questioned him further. That’s when a neighbor told us that the police were at the schoolyard investigating a break- in and were looking for my boys. I felt the briefcase was somehow involved. I know you hear it all the time, but my boys would never break into a school, trash it and steal.”
Before my Mom could continue her story any further, a lady was pushing through the crowd yelling, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” I recognized her as one of the neighbors who lived in one of the houses facing the schoolyard. I thought right then and there, we’re dead. She is always yelling at us. She would probably ask the officers to shoot us right then and there! She finally got through and said, “I’m the one who called the police. I’m Mrs. Fischer, my son Bobby, works in this district.”
Both officers turned to Mrs. Fischer and said, “Hello Mrs. Fischer, nice to meet you, we both know Bobby, he’s a good friend of ours.” Mrs. Fischer continued, “I know both of the Taylor boys, they’re good kids and I don’t believe it was them. One of the neighbor kids just told me the police were gonna arrest the Taylor brothers for the break-in. I thought I should get here before you took them to the station.”
My Mom let out a huge sigh!
Mrs. Fischer looked at my Mom and asked, “Are you Mrs. Taylor?” My Mom squeaked out a “Yes, I am.”
“Are the boys wearing the same clothes now that they wore earlier today?
Mom said, “Why yes, why?”
Mrs. Fischer turned to the police officers and said, “Take a look at what the Taylor boys are wearing and check out the police report I gave, you’ll see the clothes don’t match the description I reported.”
The police took the briefcase from my Mom and took down our names and address. One of the officers said, “We’ll keep the information on file in case we need to contact you further. Then he turned in our direction.
The officer gave us, me in particular, a stern talking to about climbing on the roof, private property and possibly falling off the roof. Afterwards, I had a finer appreciation for the term, TRESSPASSING! Mom smacked both Wilbert and me in the back of the heads and said, “The both of you are grounded. By the time we get home I may decide to send you to bed without dinner.” Once again, I got smacked in the back of my head while Mom gripped my right ear again, yelling “And you climbing on the roof, what the hell is wrong with you…” As we walked through the schoolyard gates on our way home, Mom was still ranting; I could hear the officers giggling, along with the crowd.
My thought at the time? I’m glad I’m getting grounded; I don’t think I ever want to go out in public again after this incident. Once Wilbert gets off grounding, I’m in for a real beating! All of this because of a stupid briefcase!
Sometimes, “Finders keepers, losers’ weepers” is not the rule; sometimes finders are the weepers!”