“Uh, huh,” the boy responded without looking up from the equation.
“I need you to drive me to the drug store.”
Jeffrey's mom headed downstairs while he recovered his sneakers from under the bed and put them on. He was half way down the stairs when doubt clouded his joy at getting a chance to drive. “You okay, Mom?” he shouted without knowing where she was.
Her voice filtered out of the hallway. “I'm fine,” she replied. “I just have...”
Jeffrey filled his mother's pause with a word, “Mom?”
Within moments, she appeared in the living room. “Really, it's nothing,” she assured her son. “I just have an errand to run.”
The boy stared at his mother, his mouth agape. She was dressed in her long camel hair coat. The netting from a wide-brimmed hat covered her face to the middle of her nose, and she was wearing sunglasses. She never wore sunglasses.
His mother dismissed his concern with a flick of her head. “Just get the car started,” she said, “and turn on the air conditioning.”
“Uh huh, sure,” the boy drawled. “Okay, mom,” he added as he headed for the front door watching his mother slipping on gloves.
“I'll be right behind you,” she called over her shoulder.
Jeffrey sat in the family sedan with the engine idling and the air conditioning pumping full blast when his mother finally emerged from the house, locking the front door behind her.
He sat staring at her even after she was seated and had closed the door.
“Go on,” she said without looking at him. “Let's go.”
“What's going on?”
“Nothing,” she replied allowing a little annoyance to slip into her voice. “Now, let's go.”
Jeffrey waited a few heartbeats longer before turning in his seat and slipping off the hand brake.
The drug store was in a shopping center about two miles from their home and the drive only lasted a few minutes. Jeffrey drove as though the DMV examiner were still in the car.
Mother and son did not exchange a word until they pulled into the parking lot. “Drive around to the back parking lot,” the mother directed and Jeffrey pulled around to the back entrance of the drug store.
“Wait in the car.”
Jeffrey waited until his mother had entered the drug store before shutting down the engine and following her inside.
The pharmacy stretched along the back of the store next to the entrance where Jeffrey paused to locate his mother. She had moved about half way down one of the long aisles and appeared to be studying something on the shelf; however, she frequently glanced up and looked left and right.
Jeffrey found the pharmacist nearby watching his mother. A mall security guard was doing a poor job of feigning interest elsewhere, but Jeffrey could tell that he was watching her, too.
After several moments, Jeffrey discovered that the pharmacist had sidled closer and was whispering to him. “We think she's a shoplifter,” the pharmacist announced. “I'm certain I've seen her in here before.”
“Of course, you've seen her in here before,” Jeffrey snapped back. “She shops here all the time.”
“You know her?”
“She's my mother,” Jeffrey replied, his voice cracking with emotion.
The pharmacist regarded Jeffrey differently, as though he might be an accomplice to a crime.
Jeffrey turned his attention back to his mother and discovered that a man had entered the store unnoticed and was talking to her. The man looked like he was about the same age as his mother. He was dressed in a summer suit with a crisp white shirt and a tasteful tie. The outfit looked expensive. The shoes looked Italian. The man seemed to be laughing at his mother.
The boy felt the color rise in his neck, and he began to move to the aisle where his mother was talking to the man. He peeked around the corner of an end cap display in time to see the man hand an envelope to his mother that she slipped into her coat pocket while looking around.
Jeffrey ducked back just in time to avoid detection. Looking up he saw the pharmacist staring intently in his mother's direction. Peeking around the corner again, he saw her watching the man leave through the front store entrance. The security guard also watched the man leave and then began moving towards Jeffrey's mother with his thumbs hooked through his utility belt, one hand near a holstered gun. She turned quickly and began moving towards Jeffrey's hiding place while he bolted for the back door.
Jeffrey made it to the car and had the engine started just as his mother burst from the store. She walked quickly to the passenger side and Jeffrey had the car in motion before she had her door shut. The guard arrived in the door in time to see them race out of the parking lot.
“What was that all about?” Jeffrey demanded.
His mother sat breathing deeply, not looking at him.
“Do I have to ask dad?”
Jeffrey allowed the threat to hang in the car between them until his mother took a deep breath and pulled the hat off of her head. She had forgotten to remove the hat pin and it tugged at a lock of hair, pulling it out of place.
“Well?” Jeffrey asked again.
“One of the girls got a tip,” his mother began slowly. “The girls” were the women she worked with at the local telephone exchange as an operator. “Another one knew this bookie...”
“Yes,” the woman continued. “That's the man I met in the drug store. He had our winnings, and I was elected to pick them up.”
Jeffrey laughed softly. Moments later, he was guffawing.
“Careful,” his mother admonished. “Watch where you're driving.”
They were parked in front of the house before Jeffrey could catch his breath and speak again. “You?” he asked. “They 'elected' you?”
The idea was truly incredulous to Jeffrey. His mother was probably the most “proper” woman he knew. He could only imagine that the girls were still laughing at the idea of his mother meeting the bookie.
The mother and son sat quietly together for several minutes without getting out of the car. A smile crossed Jeffrey's face slow.
“What?” his mother asked. “What are you thinking?
Jeffrey turned slowly to face his mother. The smile taking on a devilish quality.
“I just wish I had had a camera,” was all he said.