We watched as Jarvis Larchmont strode toward Meg, who was digging in the dirt.
Although none of us liked him, we were not sufficiently cynical to have anticipated what he did next.
This was a bad boy.
A very bad boy.
And quick on his feet.
He was already inside the flowerbed and haranguing Meg by the time that Samuel Swerling and Esther approached.
“You are going to prison!” Jarvis shouted down at the weeping child.
Meg looked up.
His body blocked her view of the garden and blocked the rays of the sun.
Her hands began to tremble.
“It is a violation of the law to enter into any area of a cultivated public garden and to dig a hole in the earth!”
Meg dropped her trowel in terror.
Jarvis knelt, his mouth mere inches from her face.
“No person shall disturb, defile, or remove turf, rocks, gravel, or dirt,” he shouted into her ear. He stood up again, and he kicked her trowel.
It clanged against the brick wall.
“Nor shall a person in any way dig up, cut up, or tamper with bush, plant, tree, or…”
He reached down and thrust his hand into Meg’s birdcage. Before she realized what he was doing, he had jerked out the Moroccan magic box.
“Grandpa,” Esther cried in dismay.
“Run to Alonso,” Sam commanded. “Bring him. Quickly! Quickly!” Then he stepped over the scalloped stone border surrounding the flowerbed, and he rushed toward the terrified child.
Meanwhile, Jarvis was trying to open the box. He twisted the lid to the left. Nothing. He twisted it to the right. Nothing. He tugged at the bottom. Nothing. He was about to slam the box against the brick wall when he suddenly felt iron fingers grip his right shoulder.
When all of this was happening, Samuel Swerling was an old man. But he was a strong old man; much stronger than a mean-spirited, smirking, twelve-year-old boy. He began to squeeze the shoulder connected to the hand that was holding Meg Fitzgerald’s Moroccan magic box.
Mr. Swerling squeezed harder.
Jarvis snapped his head around and looked up.
His flat green eyes were the color of dull grapes. Eyes with no depth, no compassion, and no understanding.
Mr. Swerling continued to squeeze.
Jarvis glared another half-second. Then he screamed, “Stop!”
He dropped the Moroccan magic box.
Meg scrambled forward and picked it up. She brushed off the dirt, inspected it for damage, and hugged it to her chest.
Sam grabbed Jarvis’ other shoulder. Holding the boy like a giant rag doll, he dragged him out of the flowerbed. Seconds later, Alonso and Esther ran through the portal of trumpet vines into the Children’s Garden.
What happened next was spontaneous, ingenious, and deliberate.
Alonso disengaged Jarvis from Samuel’s grasp, tucked him under his one arm like a duffle bag, and threw him onto a park bench. Then he rearranged Jarvis into a sitting position and stood with his shins pressed against the boy’s knees, effectively imprisoning him on the bench. In a voice of quiet menace, Alonso extorted Jarvis’s name, address, telephone number, parents’ names and occupations, school, date of birth, and siblings (none). Esther recorded all of this on a pad that her grandfather had given her.
When Alonso was finished, he hauled Jarvis to his feet and growled, “You will leave the park now, and you will never come back.” He reached forward, grabbed a few strands of Jarvis’ light blond hair, and yanked them out.
“Ouch,” Jarvis screamed.
The groundskeeper tucked the hairs into his shirt pocket, gave it an authoritative pat, and said, “Your hairs are biological identifiers. They don’t match anybody but you.”
Alonso shifted his eyes toward the tops of the trees.
Jarvis followed his glance.
“We have hidden monitors in the branches. The monitors are linked to a surveillance system, and the surveillance system is programmed to analyze, categorize, and store your biological identifiers in our data banks. If at any time in the future, you are stupid enough to return here, our perimeter sensors will transmit an alarm to my office, and within five seconds, I will pinpoint your location. I will find you and I will detain you. I will not question you, and I will not notify your parents. I will not call the police. You will simply disappear.”
The boy’s flat eyes filled with fear. “Dis…disappear? Wha…What do you mean by disappear?”
Alonso said nothing.
Jarvis turned to Samuel Swerling, an appeal for clemency in his eyes.
The old man said nothing.
Jarvis’s eyes moved on to Esther.
The nine-year-old pointed her thumb at her nose and wiggled her fingers in distain.
So ended, at least temporarily, Jarvis Larchmont’s reign of terror over the residents – animal, vegetable, and mineral – in the Samuel Swerling Park. For many years, Jarvis believed that Alonso’s surveillance system could do all of the technologically impossible things that the groundskeeper claimed.
And for many years, up until the time that Jarvis Larchmont became a city councilman, the bottoms of his shoes did not touch the tops of the bricks on the paths in our park.
The blond-haired bully slammed no ice cream cones out of little girls’ hands; tripped no lovers; dislodged no Cub Scout caps; intimidated no grieving children, and hid no balls, Frisbees, or dogs.
Meg, however, was another story.
After Alonso escorted Jarvis out of the park, she remained huddled at the base of the brick wall, tears in her eyes and the Moroccan magic box clutched to her chest.
Mr. Swerling reached down a hand and helped Meg to her feet.
“Come, Child,” he said. “I want you to meet my granddaughter. I’m sure you will like Esther very much. We’ll sit on a bench near the lily pond, and I promise that no one will disturb the hole you were digging while you tell us what you are protecting in your pretty little box.”
Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben
Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit www.shellyreuben.com.