Operation Clean Sweep

Darleen Bailey Beard

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Operation Clean Sweep
One
"STICKY STRIKES AGAIN
"November 29, 1916--Sticky Fingers Fred, the most notorious pickpocket in the West, struck the unsuspecting town of Arlington last night, cleaning the pockets of innocent people who attended the annual Arlington Winter Festival.
"Without being seen or heard, this canny criminal confiscated jewelry, watches, and money, including an antique necklace worth over two hundred dollars.
"'Amazing!' declared a shook-up Mrs. Deetle, owner of the necklace. 'It was around my neck one minute and gone the next!'"
I stopped reading and put my hand around my neck. How could anyone be so smooth as to take a necklace off a lady's neck and her not even feel it?
"Go on, keep reading," Dad said.
Otis took his spring-loaded, nickel-plated tape measure from his pocket and extended it about twofeet to make it tap me on the shoulder. "Yeah, keep reading," he said.
"Sticky, whose real name remains unknown, can be identified by a large scar on his left cheek. He stands five feet six inches tall, with a slim build and brown hair. He is known to be a master of disguise, having posed as a priest, cowboy, train conductor, Boy Scout leader, and even a secret agent.
"This makes the tenth town hit in the last eight months. It appears this evildoer is headed east through Oregon, preying on large gatherings of people.
"Citizens are urged to be on the lookout for this seedy character. Police say he may be armed and dangerous. There is a $500.00 reward for anyone with information leading to his capture."
I put the newspaper down on the desk in Dad's office and stared at my best friend, Otis Gill, then at Dad. "Gee, can you believe this dirty dishrag?"
"Oh man!" Otis's eyes lit up. "Wish he'd come to our town!"
"Yeah!" I agreed. "Then we could catch him and get the reward money!"
Dad ran his knuckles across the tops of our heads. "Wait a minute, you two. He may be armed and dangerous. Remember that."
I took a swig from my pop bottle. "Do you think he'll show up at our election day parade next week? It's a large gathering of people. That's what the newspaper says he likes."
Dad nodded. "Cornelius, I think you're right. I wouldn't be too surprised if he did show up."
"Gee! I've never seen a real live pickpocket before," Otis said. "I wonder what he looks like. You think he has beady eyes?"
"I know he has beady eyes." I pulled Otis's arm and led him to my dad's bulletin board, which was covered with WANTED posters from all over Oregon and even Washington State. "See?" I pointed to the one that said: WANTED--STICKY FINGERS FRED--DEAD OR ALIVE.
"Gee willikers!" Otis said. "Look at those eyes!"
The photo showed a dark-haired man dressed in a checkered shirt. He had a scar going from his left eye all the way down to his lips. His eyes were beady, all right, the beadiest I'd ever seen.
"It says that he took the cuff links off a dead man," I said, reading the small print. "Can you imagine? Stealing the cuff links off a dead man?"
"That gives me the creeps," Otis said. He measured the poster. "Hmm, let's see, now. Eight and one-half inches by eleven inches."
"Oatmeal? Do you have to go around measuring everything?" He'd been driving me crazy ever since his uncle gave him that tape measure a couple of months ago. At first it was sorta fun, going around measuring things and tapping people with it, but lately it was getting on my nerves.
"No, I don't have to, Corncob. I just want to." Otis put the tape measure back in his pocket and turned toward my dad. "So you really think he's headed this way?"
"There's a good chance he could be. Since we don't know for sure, I'm going to post men at both entrances to Umatilla on the day of the parade. If that bum shows up, we'll throw him in the clink before he even has a chance to blink. That'll make me look good in front of Lanier, won't it?" Dad laughed at his own joke.
Next Tuesday was our election day. Kim Lanier and Dad were both running for mayor. Dad was already mayor, hoping for a second term. Mr. Lanier happened to be Dad's longtime archenemy. In a strange kind of way, they seemed to enjoy making each other miserable. Dad said Lanier was a mud-slingingdingbat who didn't know the first thing about politics. And Lanier said Dad was a slimy scalawag, and that he didn't know the first thing about politics. It wasn't a pretty sight.
I didn't tell Dad this, but in a way, I kinda hoped Dad wouldn't be reelected. Back when Dad wasn't mayor, when he worked at the roundhouse, where the train engines got on turntables and changed directions, he had lots more time for fishing, hanging out, and even whistling. He used to be the best whistler around. He and I would whistle duets in church, and we always got lots of compliments. Sometimes we even got invited to whistle at weddings, but we didn't care too much about that because weddings always made ladies cry, and crying ladies made us nervous. I mean, how do you whistle a whole song and keep a straight face with a bunch of weeping, sniffling women in the audience?
Sheriff Vinson walked into Dad's office with a pile of papers under his arm. "Here's that report you requested, Frank." Then he noticed us boys. "Are you two looking forward to the parade? It's going to be a big one this year. We've got all sorts of automobiles and tractors and horses."
"Sure are," I said.
Otis and I loved the election day parade. And whyshouldn't we? Not only did we see and eat lots of stuff, but we got out of school for one whole glorious day. That was about as good as it got. Not that we didn't like school or anything, it was just fun to take a break now and then.
Mr. McGrath, our teacher, was the best. He kept us posted on a daily basis about the Great War, going on over in Europe. Every day he brought in the newspaper and shared it with us, telling us the latest happenings--who was gaining ground, who wasn't, where the troops were, and all the details, even the juicy, gory parts. I knew from him that the United States was almost certain to join the war in 1917, which was only a month away. And I knew that millions and millions of men had already been killed, and that there didn't seem to be any end to the fighting.
"You boys anxious to hear who gets to blow the bugle to commence the parade?" Sheriff Vinson asked. He put the pile of papers down on Dad's desk and exchanged it for another batch.
"Yeah! Who's it gonna be?" I asked.
Otis smiled extra big. "I got to do it last election," he said. "Remember?"
Remember? How could I not remember? That was all Otis talked about two years ago. I was sure hoping that this time I'd be the lucky one, but I wasn't holdingmy breath. There were lots of boys in Umatilla and all of them wanted to blow the bugle.
"Well, I can't say just yet who the lucky boy is," Sheriff Vinson said, winking at Dad. "But don't worry. You'll find out soon enough." He tossed us each a lemon drop, then headed out the door.
"Say, boys," Dad said, "I've got a meeting with the council in about five minutes. Did you two need anything?"
"Nope. We were just stopping by on our way home from school," I told Dad. I dug down into my pocket and pulled up the pocket watch that he had given me for my twelfth birthday. It was the same one his dad had given him on his twelfth birthday. I ran my fingers over the embossed largemouth bass on its gold case and took a look at the time.
"Three-forty! Otis, we've got five minutes to get to my house or our moms are gonna scalp us alive!"
Copyright © 2004 by Darleen Bailey Beard