"Okay Mr. Withers, how may we help you?" The straw-haired lad behind the customer service
counter posed the question with a bit too wide of a smile, as if a lifetime had gone into conditioning his overeagerness to please.
"Just call me 'Old Man Withers,'" the craggy, grey-haired man grumbled, his low gravelly voice flowing slow like a drum of tar as he glanced suspiciously around the contours of the Wal-Mart
, "everybody else does."
"Okay, then, Old Man Withers. And what are you looking for today, sir?"
"Well you see-- hey, you're going to keep your mouth shut about this, right?"
"That's our customer service motto," the clerk intoned, gesturing to a placard behind the counter:
WAL-MART: WE'LL JUST KEEP OUR MOUTH SHUT ABOUT THIS.
Old Man Withers paused to contemplate, then nodded slightly. "Okay you see, here's my problem. I've found this treasure trove of Aztec gold
"Aztec gold?" The clerk interrupted. "Here, in Missouri
"Yes, here in Missouri," Old Man Withers rejoined sarcastically
. "Anyway, it's in the abandoned old miner's camp
. The one up in the hills, off Willow Road. I want some kind of setup out there to scare away trespassers
, until I can figure out how to get all that dang gold out. Last thing I want is some gang
of meddling kids to come up there, snooping
around my gold." His eyes darted thoughtfully for a second. "Damned hippie
gangs these days. Interlopers
, sticking their noses in everybody's business, no respect for privacy
." Their type were everywhere these days, gangs of kids with rich parents, wandering around with no sense of financial responsibility, probably smoking dope
like it was all a big joke
hadn't gone to war for their country like he had; hadn't seen their farm bleed debt until they had no choice but to sell to some big agribusiness; their life savings evaporated away by scheming bankers; their wife lost to dementia and illness while the doctors threw their hands up and insurance companies stonewalled; their sons moved off to other cities and never calling, embarassed to have a crusty old-timer for a father. Old Man Withers snapped out of his morose reverie
. "Especially if they have a dog
. Dog's can sniff out things."
"Certainly, Mr.-- Old Man Withers. Wal-Mart has a wide range of products for just such a situation." The clerk continued talking as he walked the old man back to a demo room. "Here. Panasonic
makes an excellent holographic ghost projection system." He turned the lights off and flipped the switch; fog emanted from unseen vents, and in it a billowy shrouded figure appeared hovering in the air, glowing white tendrils reaching forth from it. "It uses motion sensors to trigger a variety of really creepy ghost holograms
, and has a coordinated sound system. Guaranteed to scare off meddlers."
With the flick of a switch, a booming "WHOOOOUAGHHHH" filled the room.
The clerk stepped behind a console, and began fiddling with its switches and buttons. The ghost moved around the room and up and down, changing shape and making various creepy noises. "There's a Sony
system as well, with more range and effects, but it costs about twice as much."
"Nothing American-made? Then I'll take the Panasonic," Old Man Withers rubbed his hands together. "But what if the trespassers get out of the range of this thing?"
"For that, I recommend you go to our costume
department and get outfitted with a nice ghoul
costume you can chase them off in. If you have a business associate who's in on your scheme, maybe," the clerk shrugged, "a ghoul and a werewolf
Old Man Withers nodded along, thinking over the options. The clerk continued. "And in our art department, you can pick up some portraits with removable eyes. Those are good for surveillance
After gathering up the rest of his supplies, Old Man Withers returned to the customer service desk. "When can you get the stuff out there?"
"We can have our store technicians install the Panasonic system tomorrow afternoon. There's electricity running up there? Otherwise you'll need a generator."
Old Man Withers assured the clerk he had access to power lines. The clerk continued, "I take it you'll be paying with-- ahem-- Aztec gold?"
The old man held out his hand and dropped five heavy gold coins
into the young clerk's palm. The clerk nodded, approvingly. Old Man Withers turned and walked out the door.
As he loaded his supplies into his beat up old pickup truck, he noticed a crazily painted-up multi-colored van
, blue and green with orange flowers, pulling into a space in front of the pizza parlour just a few cars down. Four kids got out, along with a big dog -- looked to be a great dane
. One of the kids actually looked pretty straight, a strapping blond in a pretentious ascot
. But the two girls wore too-short skirts, even the homely one, and the other young man was a shaggy, filthy, goateed mess. He wondered if any of them ever even bothered to change their clothes. "Danged hippie kids," Old Man Withers grumbled. Let that snotty-nosed gang of brats come; he'd show them a thing or two. He slammed the door, gripped the wheel, and headed off to the hills.