"There's a store down that thar road, boys. Hell, ain't nuthin' else out that way 'cept the Higgins' place and you can't see that from the road. The store's right along side it. Y'all can't miss it."
After an hour walking in the muggy heat of early evening, we were beginning to fear that we had missed it. But, there it was at last. It didn't look much like a store in the distance. Just a silhouette in the twilight. One light burning in a window. An old man wearing bib overalls, sitting on a porch, rocking, holding a glass of iced tea in his lap, cooling his privates with the condensation dripping off it.
He smiled. “Yep, dis ere's da place y'all lookin for,” he informed us before we could ask. “C'mon in.”
“Where's y'all from?” he asked over his shoulder as he led us inside.
“Balmur,” I replied. Baltimorese sounds like that, really.
He chuckled and looked at me. “Sounds like it,” he responded.
He gave us lots of room and let us gawk. There it was. Forbidden merchandise stacked on wooden shelves nailed to every wall. Cherry bombs and M80s – Hammerheads, we called them – in boxes of seventy-two.
“Twelve bucks a box,” he said seeing in which direction our eyes were bulging.
We couldn't believe our ears. Dick started to say something to confirm the price.
“Ya heard me,” the old man cut him short. “Twelve bucks a box.”
Good Lord! The corners of my mouth were getting sore from the grin that stretched them to unaccustomed distances.
We pulled out our wallets and began calculating our purchases. I didn't see any need to buy both the cherry bombs and the hammerheads. They're about equal in power. Others just grabbed a box of everything.
The walk back to the boat began cheerfully. We were too wrapped up in visions of mayhem to consider the discomfort that would soon afflict us from embracing our contraband during the long walk back. There was a lot of shifting of loads and stops to rest. It didn't matter. We were too excited to care.
We didn't even give ourselves a minute to rest when we climbed aboard. The skipper was at dinner with the other members of the yacht club fleet. We began tossing cherry bombs and hammerheads into the water, cheering each explosion.
The boatswain disappeared inside when the novelty began to wear off and reemerged with a roll of electrical tape and a box of spare hardware: nuts and bolts. He taped a cherry bomb to one, lit it, and tossed it over the side. We watched expectantly. A flash of light. A muffled wump. A stream of bubbles floating to the surface followed by a school of stunned fish. Dinner anyone? We followed his example. Hell, he was the leader, wasn't he.
Fortunately, we were always at the last boat in the fleet and the skipper usually stayed on the bridge making sure we didn't run into something. Thus, all the adults had plausible deniability.
Back home, the Baltimore County police got wind that someone had invaded their territory, armed to the teeth. I suspected that the busybody who lived next door had ratted me out. I watched a squad car parked at the end of our street one day. They were there a long time and there wasn't a donut shop within a mile.
I sneaked out the back door. Crossed the stream behind our house and cut through a narrow strip of woods that separated us from the sand lot where we played ball. I used one of my dad's cigarettes as a delayed fuse and attached it to a mortar. I ran back home and was sitting on the front porch in full view of the police when the charge was launched high above the trees and exploded.
The cops peeled out to investigate the scene of the crime. I was still sitting on the front porch, sipping on a Coke, when they cruised by about ten minutes later. I waved, friendly like. They scowled.