In my line of work, you get to know certain types of people. These aren’t people you’ll meet at a Mommy & Me sing-along, or the matinee showing of Kung Fu Panda 3. These are the ones at the playground, standing shifty-eyed under the loopy slide—quick with a joke, but quicker with a shove if you so much as look at them funny, let alone try to cross them. They know how to do and where to find things that your average four-year-old doesn’t. Need a lightly-used whiffle ball bat? A limited edition of The Wiggles: Live!, signed by the whole cast? Or how about just, like, how to tie your shoes? These people are around.
I have my guys. Bradley Becker’s always my first contact, a shady character who’s rumored to have been the Gerber baby. Bradley goes by Picket, for two reasons: He’s worked on both sides of the fence on the black market, and he’s got a serious nose-picking problem. Hey, we’ve all got our demons, y’know?
On this day, I find Picket looking ornery. It’s never good to deal with guys who have tummy aches—who knows what’ll make ‘em snap? Picket sees me from afar and crosses his arms, tapping his foot and shaking his head.
“You got a lotta nerve showin’ your face around here, Charlie.” Picket remarked with a little bit of drool hanging from the corner of his mouth. “Whaddaya want?”
“I’m just here to talk,” I say. “Can’t a guy just talk?”
“It’s never ‘just talk’ with you. You always want somethin’.”
“Well, suppose I did.”
Picket looked me over. I knew I was pushing him on account of what happened the last time we’d gotten mixed up, but I knew he would know something about Scarlet’s missing tricycle.
“Well,” he said, “Supposin’ you did, I don’t suppose it has something to do with that missing tricycle?”
I don’t flinch. “Suppose so.”
“I will. If I did suppose that you were supposin’ to ask me about that tricycle, I’d tell you that you’re indiscriminately peltin’ Cheerios at the wrong case, my friend. Capiche?”
Time to get serious. “Be straight with me, Picket. What’s a guy have to do to get a little info about a child’s plaything?”
Smugly, he rubs his fingers together. Always looking for something, this guy. I pull out my piece-de-resistance.
“Is that what I—”
“It’s exactly what you think it is, Picket. Now, this’ll be all yours if you can give me something to go on here.”
“Hey, if you wanna get yourself into trouble, be my guest. I don’t know too much about the tricycle, but I do know that you’re not the only one after it. Big Luke is looking for it.”
“The Big Luke?”
“The one and only.”
“Alright. That doesn’t exactly do a fat lot for me, but here you go. And be careful with this thing.”
I hand Picket his payment—documents outlining the blueprints for the new Pampers design. Rumor has it that they’ll be including pockets on the new model. I guess only Picket will know now.
Big Luke. The guy’s a legend around here, a crook through and through who should be in third grade. Instead, he controls the crayon racket for five counties and makes every four-year-old this side of Marble Ave. shudder in their sheets.
Leaving Picket to his devices, I head back over to the monkey bars, scratching my head and wondering what exactly it is I’ve gotten myself into.