Sometimes, in the middle of an Albany winter, there’s a chill that settles into your bones that makes you think that maybe things will never get warm again. That there will never be sun again. A February chill that makes you long for sunny climes and sandy beaches.
Unfortunately, Timmy and I had just returned from the sun and sand of Florida (a getaway funded by Timmy’s careful saving and a little windfall of my own, a small matter of a lost poodle that turned out to be custodial interference by the previous partner of the owner of Albany’s largest [and only] dog wash-and-gay nightclub; Melvin was so grateful to have Prissy returned that he had promised me her winnings from that year’s circuit of dog shows -- and wouldn’t you just know, she actually took the Best in Show at the local AKC event that year?), so there was nothing on our horizon but snow, salt, and ice.
I was, as we say in the private investigator business, between clients, and Timmy was not needed by the good citizens of the state of New York (it being a Saturday and the state legislature in a recess; even hard-working aides were not needed that afternoon), so I’d swung by home after I’d grown tired of sitting in my office. At least at home there would be heat, while my office was a little short of that at the moment, a small matter of a dispute with the electric company over several unpaid bills. When I got home, Timmy was working on our latest renovation project, taking apart a plaster wall that was dividing one of the front rooms into two; he had his shirt off and was swinging a sledgehammer, and I was feeling warmer already.
“Don,” he greeted me, and I was pleased at how pleased he looked to see me. “Do you come bearing gifts?”
“Gifts?” I repeated, a little slow.
“Bread? Milk? Frozen pizza? Not to mention vegetables.” Oh, right. I’d been supposed to stop at the store when I was done working for the day. The Callahan-Strachey larder was not exactly bursting.
“Ah, no, Timothy, but I *have* come home to see if you’d like to participate in a little investigation.”
“I’m not exactly in a fit state to go anywhere.” He gestured at his state of deshabillé, which I’m sure was a bit risqué for a gently-raised Catholic boy like Timmy. Much as I appreciated it, I had to concede that he might be a bit under-dressed for the Arctic weather outside. We arranged that Timmy would take a shower while I cleaned up from his destruction of our former wall, since if we had followed my suggestions that we leave the wall and the pile of plaster as is while I helped Timmy clean up in the shower, we would never have made it to the scene of the investigation. Then, cleaned up and bundled up, we headed out into the frozen wild.
Timmy displayed those keen powers of observation that had made me ask him along (besides his other keen attributes) when he remarked as we pulled into the parking lot, “This is Price Chopper, Don.”
“Sure is,” I said, also displaying the keen intellect that I’d honed during first my years as an indifferent scholar at Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey) and now as Albany’s acknowledged most sought-after (and only) gay private eye.
“I thought we were investigating.”
“We are. There could be evil deeds afoot here.”
“What, expired baked items? Salmonella in the chicken? Suspicious characters in the freezer section?”
I didn’t dignify Timmy’s remarks with an answer, but I shut off the engine and shut my door (I didn’t lock it, because I was sure no one would be foolish enough to steal my car--and if they were, good luck to them). Timmy followed behind me, still grumbling about how I’d tricked him into doing the grocery shopping after all.
The Price Chopper doors slid open with a moist blast of heat. Timmy grabbed a cart, his natural instincts overcoming his irritation with my dissembling. We started in the produce section (you could tell Timmy was now in charge). Grapes were on sale, fresh from Chile, so we selected a small bunch of those, and then headed towards the vegetables.
“Pick up one of those,” Timmy directed, vaguely. Of course, I knew what he meant, and I grabbed him a head of broccoli. It wasn’t my favorite vegetable (that would be the ‘legally-a-vegetable’ kind of vegetable, perhaps in pizza form), but Timmy is very fond of them. I know he still pretends that they’re little trees, and sometimes I even arrange them on his plate in the form of a little forest for him. Sometimes, mind you.
Produce acquired, we made our way through the rest of the store. Timmy conceded that I had made a gesture toward health, so he contented himself with merely a sigh when I got a six-pack of Price Chopper brand cream soda and a long-suffering look at the frozen pizza (Price Chopper brand, of course, buy one get one free).
As we were approaching the dairy case, Timmy drew close to me. At first, I thought it was a desire for my company (or perhaps something more personal: who was I to judge how the presence of so many Price Chopper brand items might affect Timmy’s libido?), or perhaps a reaction to the chill of the milk and cheese, but then Timmy whispered into my ear, soft and low, “I think the man over there is Daryl Henney.”
I glanced in the direction he was indicating. And indeed, there, standing next to the non-dairy creamers, with a hazlenut in one hand and a vanilla in the other (he was exhausting Price Chopper’s choices), was one of Albany’s most notorious fugitives. He was wanted for a daring nighttime caper, in which he had climbed, somehow, to the top of the Egg, and covered it with 10,000 bright plastic eggs, all strung together. It had been rather charming, actually, but the Albany Police had taken a dim view of his artistic endeavours and had issued a warrant for his arrest.
He’d taken off immediately (jail was not part of his mental conception of the portrait of an artist), and his mother had hired me three months ago to track down his whereabouts. I’d assured her that he was probably halfway to Aruba by now, if he had any sense (no one with any sense would be in Albany during the winter), and yet, here he was, calmly picking out creamer in a Price Chopper.
It didn’t make me too proud of my detective skills.
And then, what did he do but slip one of the creamers inside his coat! The hazlenut one. Guerilla art was one thing, but creamer-theft was something totally different. “Daryl!” I called out, already running for him. “Drop the creamer!”
He spun around and looked at me with the sort of gaze usually found on nature’s gentlest bunny rabbits or on some dewy-eyed hustler by night in the park (not that I had seen either species recently), and then took off at an impressive clip.
“Stop!” I shouted again, sprinting behind him through the bread and rolls. He didn’t slow, but was nearly at the end of the aisle, when suddenly--OOF. He ran straight into Timmy, who had circled around past the cleaning products, clever man. Daryl bounced a little and then sat on the floor, spurting creamer in all directions.
“Terrific apprehension,” I congratulated Timmy, as the store manager and security officer headed towards us. They were a little late, but now Timmy and I had captured them a shoplifter and I would be able to secure that long-despaired of fee from Mrs. Henney.
I couldn’t resist and told them, “Clean up on aisle five.”
After handing Daryl over to the Albany PD, the manager was suitably grateful to Timmy and me, and he let us know that all our groceries would be on the house today. Timmy was of the opinion that we should splurge on exotic fruits and name-brand products, but my loyalty was not so easily lost.
I settled for an extra six-pack of Price Chopper cream soda, and *three* boxes of Price Chopper pop tarts. Timmy didn’t argue too much, since he was still feeling guilty for doubting me about our motives in going to Price Chopper.
I was too much of the practical Presbyterian, untroubled by conscience, to enlighten him.
Outside, an inch of ice had coated everything, and it was now drizzling wetly. Timmy volunteered to scrape off my car (which was of course still there), and I thought to myself that maybe this winter thing wasn’t so bad.
I even had some Price Chopper cocoa mix to warm us up at home.