"The Message" April excerpt - by Mary A. Berger
Mattie has taken the laptop home, determined to unravel the odd message it holds and hoping to enlist the help of her computer-savvy nephew, Scotty.
"Down on the floor! Both of youse—now!" a giant-sized man shouted, exploding into the thrift shop.
Clare screamed and Mattie's eyes popped wide. They were in the shop alone. Normally, Mattie would've gotten right in the man's face and stood up to him. There was only one problem: he had a gun.
Petrified, the gals did as they were told. They watched as the man wearing dark glasses, black gloves, and a red hooded jacket tore through the place. He tossed things from side to side as if a giant pinata were flying apart, all the while keeping an eye on Mattie and Clare.
"Where is it?" he demanded. "Where's the damn computer?" The women couldn't speak. The guy's eyes darted into the storage area, the sorting room, and finally back to where Mattie and Clare sat like dutiful children. Then, almost as quickly as he had barged in, the would-be thief fled from the shop, muttering profanities on his way out. The entire episode probably lasted a minute.
After the man was out of sight, Mattie flew to the door, trembling, and snapped it locked with the deadbolt. With her back to the door, she let out several quick gasps.
Swallowing hard she turned to Clare. "Are you okay?" she asked, her voice somewhere in her stomach.
"I . . . I guess so." Clare was trembling, her dark eyes still filled with fear. "Sonofabitch," she muttered. "What was that all about?"
"The guy wants the computer."
"That would be my guess."
"But why would he come storming in here like that?"
"He wants the computer badly?"
"We'd better call the cops.They might want to know about this."
Ignoring Clare's sarcasm, Mattie checked a list of phone numbers which the desk workers kept on hand. Hands shaking, she dialed the police and gave them a report.
A short time later, an officer showed up, interrogated the gals, and looked around. "He was looking for a computer, you say? What was that all about?"
Mattie and Clare turned to each other with innocent shrugs. "We had a laptop here a few days ago," Mattie said, "but the others told me it was broken. I even took it home, and they were right. It was broken."
"Huh," the officer said, shrugging. "I'll have to let the owners know about this." He handed Mattie a card and told the gals to call him again if the man returned.
"We'll report it," Mattie assured him with a sarcastic sniff, "if we live to tell about it."
The officer thanked them and left, checking up and down the street on his way out.
Obviously upset, Clare said, "Why not just lock up and call it a day?"
"What, and miss more excitement?" Mattie had felt frightened out of her wits and caught off guard, at first. But now that things had settled down, she was angry. "I'm not about to let some gun-toting idiot ruin my day. No way. If he comes back again, we just might have a surprise for him."
Clare wheeled around. "What are you talking about? What kind of surprise?"
Mattie hesitated. "I'm not sure. Haven't decided yet. But I'll think of something."