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                    THE GREAT PEACH PILFERAGE


                               by



                        Bruce E. Rodgers





     William woke up and knew right away it was a snow day.  
Sometimes you just know, and William knew.  Everything sounded 
quiet, and muffled, especially the traffic passing in front of 
the house.  The snowplow went by.  He heard it scraping the 
     Downstairs,  he  heard the kitchen radio.   He  didn't  hear 
music  on  the radio,  only talking.  That was a  good  sign,  he 
thought.   He  heard  his  mother and  father,  but  he  couldn't 
understand  what they were saying.   He imagined them deciding if 
William  were old enough to stay home alone,  or if one  of  them 
noticed one thing he wasn't hearing; he wasn't hearing his mother 
call  him,  like  she usually did in the morning.   Another  good 
     So,  to William,  everything he heard as he lay snug in  his 

                 SNOW DAY!  SNOW DAY!  SNOW DAY! 

     He pulled the covers up to his chin,  squiggled around a bit 
to  find a nice comfortable spot,  and thought how lucky he  was.  
Not  only  would he have a whole yard-full of brand new  snow  to 
And, it was almost Christmas.  As he lay there, he made a list in 
last,  and  the  first thing on the list was to  sleep  a  little 
longer.  He pulled the covers up tight to his chin and he started 
to drift off.
     "William."
     "What  was  that?" he thought.   He rolled over and found  a 
cool place on the pillow. He started to sleep again.
     "William! Come on, time to get up."
     It was his mother.   "Why isn't she letting me  sleep?   She 
always lets me sleep on snow days," he thought.
     His  mother  came into his room and brushed his  blond  hair 
from his forehead.
     "Let's go, Mister, you'll miss the bus," she said.
     William opened one eye.   It was his mother, all right.  And 
     "What about the snow?" he asked. "Don't we have a snow day?"
     "Snow?" she said. "What snow?  William, it's September.  You 
the curtains, and the sun hurt his eyes.
     "Ohhhh," he said.   He could have said a lot more.  He had a 
lot more to say.  But that's all he said.
     "I  think you've been dreaming again.   Let's hit the  deck.  
Breakfast in five minutes."  She left the room, and William heard 
music on the radio,  and he heard cars whizzing by on the  street 
     Nothing  will  put a kid in a bad mood faster than  thinking 

                           *  *  *  *

     "Are you in a better mood yet?" Mrs. Diamond asked.
     He turned around on the stool. "No."
     "Then you just stay there."
     That was just fine with him,  he thought.  He didn't want to 
be  practicing  his multiplication with Willy  Richmond,  anyway.  
Today he didn't like Willy Richmond or Mrs.  Diamond,  or anyone.  
He thought Willy Richmond was a bully,  and not too smart, and he 
thought Mrs.  Diamond was a mean old lady.  But mostly, he didn't 
like  them  because it wasn't a snow day and  because  it  wasn't 
Christmas.
     The  stool he sat on was made of plain wood.   He touched it 
bedroom,  he had a small,  red,  three legged stool.  It had once 
belonged  to  his Grandpa Phillips who had used it for  years  to 
milk his cows.   Then,  about three years ago, his grandpa sanded 
t down and painted it up,  and gave it to William for Christmas.
     That  little  red,  three  legged stool was just  about  his 
favorite  thing.   He  had  a lot of toys.   He had  a  neat  red 
bicycle.   He had a whole box of Star Wars toys and about ten  or 
eleven  matchbox  cars,  and  a closet full of  other  toys  he'd 
already forgotten about;  but for some reason,  that plain little 
     Sometimes  William would sit on the stool,  and with his toy 
locomotive,  pretend  he was the Engineer of a  big,  long  train 
barn  on a cold morning.   He could see wisps of steam rising off 
the  warm milk and  swirling around the nostrils of the  cows  as 
they  breathed.  He smelled the hay stacked in the loft high over 
magine just about anything he wanted when he sat on the stool.
     Thinking  about his grandfather and the milk made him  think 
about ice cream.  He loved ice cream, especially peach ice cream, 
milk.   They  took the milk and they made ice cream out of it and 
t made William's  Grandpa feel good that something so  delicious
came from the milk he sold.
     William  imagined  what it would be like to be an ice  cream 
maker.   Instead of driving a plain truck, his truck would be red 
and green and yellow and would have a big sign on each side which 
ce  cream;  peach.  He'd tell his customers they could have  any
kind  of ice cream they wanted,  as long as it  was  peach.   And 
cream.

                        *    *    *    *

     "Boss?"
     William turned.
     "Boss, are you okay?"
     "What?  Yeah,  sure,"  William  said,  "just  a  little  day 
     "Problems. Big problems."
     "Barney,  you worry too much.   It's Christmas time.   There 
are no problems."
     Little beads of sweat dotted Barney's forehead.  He took off 
     "But Boss --"
      William  put his arm around his  nervous  assistant.  "Now, 
Barney,  my  friend,  take  it  easy.   Tell me about  these  big 
     "Boss .  .  .," Barney took a long,  dramatic pause.  "Boss, 
t's the peaches.   They're gone!  They're all gone,  and I don't
know what happened to them,  I don't know how they got gone,  but 
they're gone and they're not there and I'm sorry, and what are we 
can't very well make peach ice cream which is the only --"
     "Hold  it,  hold  it,  hold  it." William put his  hands  on 
Barney's shoulders and steered him over to a comfortable chair in 
a  corner  of his office.  "You're going to have to  stop  taking 
things so seriously,  or you're going to give yourself high blood 
     "Yes!  They must have been.   The last I knew we had a whole 
the  peaches  there were,  the whole fall harvest.   We had  more 
there were peaches,  peaches,  peaches, and this morning -- nada.  
Caput! Phhht!"
     "Okay, thank you, Barney.  I'll take care of it."
     "What about the workers?"
     "The workers?" asked William.
     "They don't have anything to do," said Barney.
     William walked out onto the shop floor.   He saw the men and 
ce cream,  standing around in small groups, talking in whispers,
and looking concerned.
     "We'll have to send them home," said William,  "if we  don't 
     "But boss, we can't do that.  If we send them home, we don't 
their  families.  And  tonight  was supposed to  be  the  company 
Christmas party. We have to get peaches!"
     "Have them take a break."
     "They're on a break, boss."
     "Then  tell  them  to  take  another  one.   I'll  think  of 
the door behind him.
     He sat at his desk and pulled on his lower lip.   He  didn't 
know what to do.  He knew he couldn't get anymore peaches because 
there were no more left,  anywhere.   He just didn't know what to 
     "Pssst."
     William looked up.  He thought he'd heard something, but ...
     "Pssst! Hey!"
     This time he stood up.  He was sure he heard a voice, but --
there wasn't anyone in the room with him.
     "Hey!  Kid! Over here."
     The  voice  came from the corner of the office,  behind  the 
comfortable chair.
     William walked over to the chair and moved it away from  the 
frisbees.
     "What's the matter, never seen a mouse before?"
     Well, the fact was, William never had seen a mouse like this 
one.   This  mouse  was  big;  the top of his  head  came  up  to 
William's knee, and he was dressed in a white stocking cap, a red 
William.
     "Listen, big shot, I want to talk to you about something.  I 
this  is ridiculous.   I've got to wear this hat and scarf inside 
you runnin' here?"
     William  walked back to his desk and sat in his  big,  soft, 
leather chair.   He hoped all of this was just a dream,  that  it 
crazy.
     But  even  as he thought this,  the mouse hopped up  on  the 
chair  and  from  the  chair over to William's  large  oak  desk.  
William was so startled, he almost toppled over backward.
     "Hey,  take it easy,  Kid.  I ain't resortin' to violence -- 
yet."  The mouse sat on the edge of the desk,  with  his  crossed 
legs  dangling over the side.  He leaned back on one arm.   "What 
that,  he took a small nail file from his pocket and proceeded to 
file his nails.
     There was a knock on William's door.  "Boss?  How are things 
n there?  Have you figured something out?"
     William looked at the mouse, and then at the door.
     The  mouse looked up at William.   "You gonna  answer  him?" 
     "Uh,  uh, hang on a few more minutes, Barney.  I'm  -- I'm a 
little busy right now."
     "Oh, yeah, sure, okay, boss," said Barney, and he went away.
     The  mouse  spoke without looking at  William."So,  you  got 
freezin'  my tail off in there."   He continued filing his  nails 
and occasionally blowing the dust from them and polishing them on 
bear.
     The mouse turned and pointed with the little nail file as he 
     "What are you talking about," said William.
     "What I'm sayin' is;  maybe a certain -- mouse,  has certain 
--information  on  the whereabouts of certain  -- fruit,  if  you 
follow  my drift.   And maybe,  if this certain mouse helped  you 
find  the a-forementioned fruit,  and perchance nab the  depraved 
livin' around this place."
     There was another knock on the door. "Boss?"
     "What is it, Barney?"
     "Boss,  I don't mean to rush you,  but we're getting  orders 
cream in time for Christmas,  and I don't know what to tell them. 
What do you want me to say?"
     William  stood  up and paced for a minute.   He  turned  and 
looked at the mouse. "You think you can get our peaches back?"
     The mouse snapped his fingers. "Nothin' to it."
     "What'd you say, Boss?"
     "I said,  tell the customers  they'll have all the ice cream 
they want,  whenever they want it. And tell the people to get the 
     The  mouse  jumped off the desk and stood in  front  of  the 
chair.   He smiled at William and winked.  "You got spunk, Kid. I 
like  that.   Meet  me  in  the truck -- five  minutes,"  and  he 
     "Wait!" said William
     The mouse poked his head back through the hole. "Yeah?"
     "What do I call you?" 
     "Lance,"  said  the  mouse.   "It's  my  stage  name.   Five 
minutes."  He winked at William once again, and disappeared.

                        *    *    *    *

     "Left  at the stop sign,  left at the third light,  and turn 
     William stepped on the brakes.   "Wait a minute,  where  are 
     "Look, Kid, you want the fruit, you do what I say."
     William  pulled  out  into traffic and  headed  toward  main 
     "What kind of a rig is this?" asked Lance.
     "It's an ice cream truck," answered William.
     "I know it's an ice cream truck.   I can read.   You've  got 
that  big  sign on the side that says 'ICE CREAM.'  I  know  'ice 
cream' when I read it."
     "Sorry," said William.
     "That's  okay," said Lance,  pausing for a moment.  "What  I 
meant  was,  is  this old hunk of junk a Packard or a  Desoto  or 
     "Flopmeister," replied William, "Nineteen thirty-eight."
     "A  '38 Flopmeister?  Never heard of it.   How fast will she 
     "I don't know.   An ice cream truck doesn't have to go  very 
fast."
     "It does now," said Lance.
     "What do you mean?" asked William.
     "We're being tailed."
     "Followed?  We're being followed?"
     "In the movies, we call it 'tailed'. Don't you watch TV? 
Turn here."
     "How do you know?" asked William, turning the old truck down 
a narrow alley.
     "See this?" said Lance tapping his shiny black nose with his 
See a black '83 Camero, Z-28, with tinted windows?"
     William looked in the mirror,  and sure enough,  there was a 
black, 1983 Chevy Camero with dark, tinted windows.  On the front 
     Lance  smiled,  but stared straight ahead.  Just  then,  the 
truck  came  to  the end of the  alley.   William  couldn't  stop 
looking  in  the mirror,  expecting at any moment,  to  see  guns 
bristling out of every window of the Camero.
     "Left," said the mouse.  
     William turned left.   The Camero turned left.  Lance looked 
over at William.
     "Ever  hear of  a Flopmeister beating a Z-28?"     
     "Are you kidding?" said William.
     The  little mouse jumped up on the seat where he could get a 
better  perspective and grabbed hold of the window  frame.  "Then 
let's  make  history!  LET'S LOSE  THIS  SUCKER!!!"      
     William,  caught up in the Lance's excitement,  slammed  the 
the  old  truck,  far more accustomed to the screams  of  excited 
children  than  to the cry of battle,  smoked and  sputtered  and 
backfired two -- three times.  But then, by some miracle, perhaps 
moved  by  the  dim  memory of  its  early  years,  the  faithful 
Flopmeister seemed to rear back on its haunches and launch itself 
forward.   William  barely hung on to the steering wheel as  they 
flew down the street.
     Lance  stuck  his  head out the window  so  that  his  white 
truck swung around the corner,  its inside wheels lifted off  the 
     "FASTER! FASTER!" yelled Lance.
     William  fought  the wheel as truck bounced up and down  and 
lurched  from side to side.  But nothing was going to deter  him.  
He was going to find his peaches,  employ his workers,  and  make 
the best peach ice cream in the world.       
     Left  and right,  and left and right,  the old truck dove in 
and out of traffic,  through stop lights,  down alleys, up hills, 
around corners.  
     William yelled to Lance: "Who are these guys, anyway?"
     "Melba's men!" he yelled back.
     William was too busy driving to ask him more.
     The  tired,  old  Flopmeister and the hot Z-28  chased  each 
other through the city,  and around the city zooming down streets 
and racing up avenues;  engines roaring and tires screaming.  But 
f the truck couldn't outrun the Camero, neither could the Camero
RIGHT! TURN LEFT! GO FOR IT! WAY TO GO, KID!"
     The  truck and the Camero lept over the railroad tracks  and 
and  ramshackle  cottages that made up the seedier  side  of  the 
city.   Lance  seemed to know the neighborhood well as he  yelled 
     Suddenly,  the   truck was jolted by a blast of winter wind, 
common in this part of the country,  and out of the corner of his 
eye  William saw three trash cans tumbling across an  empty  lot, 
left,  lifting the right wheels off the ground, and the cans flew 
the Camero.   The Camero tried to avoid the cans,  but skidded on 
ce and spun-out against a light pole.
     Watching this all in the mirror,  William yelled and cheered 
to  see  that they were safe,  but in his enthusiasm,  he  hadn't 
noticed  that his quick maneuvering had thrown the mouse off  the 
     "HEY! HEY, KID! SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN!"
     William stepped on the brakes, and stopped the truck.  Lance 
clammored in, looking a little pale, but still excited.
     "Way  to go,  kid.   Nice drivin'," he said.  "Now that's my 
dea of excitement."
     William sat back in his seat and realized that his heart was 
thought,  it  was enough for him for the day.   He wiped his brow 
asked.
     "End of the street, turn right."
     William did as instructed, but as the truck coasted down the 
been  clear and blue when they started out,  had become gray  and 
three times he thought he saw something,  a movement or a gesture 
out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked, he saw nothing.  
The  street was empty;  no cars,  no people.   And it was silent, 
very silent.
     William turned to Lance.   "I don't like this at all.   This 
s spooky."
     "Pull over and stop here," said the mouse.
     "You're kidding," said William.
     "Moi?  Kid  you?   Come on,  we're gonna get  those  peaches 
back."
     William  parked the truck in front of an old brick  building 
that looked as if it had once been a garage but had, at some time 
been converted into something else.  Bricks were missing, or were 
cracked  or broken,  and the roof sagged here and there,  and  in 
tin  chimney  poked through,  and out of it  poured  smoke.   All 
around  were  discarded papers,  and cans,  and the snow  on  the 
filled  with the most pleasant smell.   It was a familiar  smell, 
     "Hey,  kid, wake up," whispered Lance. "Come on, follow me."  
And  he  climbed out of the truck and began to sneak  around  the 
     "Wait  a minute," said William.   "You go -- and let me know 
     "No way,  Jose," said the mouse.  "We're in this  together."  
And he continued on along the side of the building.
     William climbed down reluctantly.  "Where we going?" he yelled.
     The  mouse  whirled around.  "Shhhh," he said.  "Zip it  up, 
blabbermouth and follow me, before you blow the whole thing."
     The  mouse and William crept very slowly around to the  rear 
of the building and stopped beside a broken-down wooden door.  
     Lance leaned over to William.   "Ain't this place the pits?" 
That's when I moved uptown, to your place."
     "What's   that  smell?"  whispered  William.    "It   smells 
     "You'll  see," said Lance,  and he took the old wooden  door 
and opened it a crack.
     William  moved  in behind the mouse and looked  through  the 
crack.  All he saw was the back of a big rocking chair sitting in 
a big room, and a huge cooking stove, glowing with warmth.
     Lance slipped in through the crack in the door and waved for 
William to follow.  William didn't want to follow him, but he did 
anyway.
     Once inside, the mouse signalled for William to turn around, 
and when he did,  he saw piles and piles of peaches, his peaches; 
not all the peaches that had been stolen,  but perhaps half.  And 
behind  the  peaches was another huge storeroom crammed  full  of 
     Step by step,  Lance and William crept up behind the rocking 
chair.   It creaked as it rocked on the wooden floor,  and smoke, 
occupant.  Yet  overwhelming the sweet tobacco,  was  the  mouth-
     The chair stopped rocking. William thought his heart stopped 
beating too and all at once his throat became dry.
     "Morning,  Lance,  what took you do long?" said a voice from 
the chair.  
     William  thought he was going to faint.   The voice was  low 
and curious sounding.  Not at all what he expected.
     Lance shrugged his shoulders at William and walked around to 
the front of the chair.   William tried to sneak out the way they 
came in.
     "Hey,  Kid, come on.  It's too late now.  You can outsmart a 
lotta people, but you can't outsmart Melba."
     William turned around and walked slowly up beside the mouse, 
facing the chair.   Lance pulled out his little file and began to 
     "Kid, I want you to meet Melba -- Peach Melba."
     William  found  himself  looking at a little  old  lady  who 
Diamond.   He was surprised to see her smoking a pipe.   Her face 
     She took the pipe out of her mouth and said; "So, you're the 
little hotshot who bought up all my peaches."
     William,   immediately  forgetting  his  fear,  straightened 
     "Did not!" said Melba.
     "Did so!" replied William
     "Did not!"
     "Did so!"
     "Not!"
     "So!"
     "Not!"
     "TIME  OUT!"  said  Lance,  rolling his  eyes  and  stepping 
between them.  "Let's just talk about it, okay?"
     "Got nothing to talk about," said the old lady,  jamming the 
     "We're  taking our peaches back," said William.   "I've  got 
     Melba stopped rocking, focused her eyes hard on William, and 
the kind, Hotshot."
     Lance reached up and grabbed William by the back pocket. "Be 
cool, Kid.  Let me handle this," he whispered.
     William stepped back.
     "He  had no right buyin' up all them peaches,"  said  Melba. 
"How was I supposed to make my peach melba?  I got orders commin' 
n from all over,  people who heard 'bout my melba,  and he's got
all the peaches making ice cream.  I make the best peach melba in 
     "And  I  make the best peach ice cream in the  world!"  said 
William.
     The mouse held up his hand. "Kid, please!"
     "Besides,  I  already used up most half them peaches.   Been 
makin' my melba the whole night long."
     Just then,  two men burst into the room.  One wore a flannel 
looked as if he was missing a tooth.  Both of them looked bruised 
and dirty.
     "There  they  are,  let's get 'em," said the  one  with  the 
flannel shirt.
     "You  get the mouse,  I'll get the kid," said the other  who 
they started to come at William and Lance.
     "Hold it, boys," said Melba.
     "They wrecked my new car," whined the flannel shirt.
     "Put it right up side a pole," said the other.
     "Be  quiet,  you  two!" said Melba shaking  her  head.   She 
looked at Lance.  "Ever since you left,  ain't had a peaceful day 
to  myself.   These two gotta be the dumbest two humans  ever  to 
     "Had to follow my star," said Lance.
     "Sent  'em out to buy me peaches,  and they come back with a 
load'a  pears.   Pears!  You probably seen 'em back there.  Whole 
as anything."
     William smiled at the lady.  He didn't seem to be angry with 
     Melba  puffed  on her pipe and stared off in  the  distance. 
"And who ever heard of pear melba?" she said.
     But  when she said that,  Lance's ears pricked up,  and  his 
together,  "that  gives  me  an idea.   Are you in  the  mood  to 
negotiate?"

                        *    *    *    *

     By  three o'clock,  the factory was all decorated.   Red and 
cream.   The  finishing touches had been added to  the  Christmas 
tree,  and  the  workers  once again gathered  in  small  groups, 
concerned  that William wouldn't find the peaches and save  their 
     But  suddenly  the  door flew open and  in  walked  William.  
Everyone was silent, waiting to hear what he would say.
     "Ladies and Gentlemen,  I have the solution to our problem."  
He heard a great sigh of relief. 
     William  moved  aside,   and  in  walked   Lance,  toting  a 
     Everyone was very puzzled.  "But Boss, those aren't peaches, 
they're  pears!" yelled Barney.  "And where'd you find the  giant 
mouse?"  The whole factory buzzed with conversation,  and some of 
the people were obviously afraid of Lance.
     But  Lance  had no sooner gotten in the door when in  behind 
and sweating and carrying her huge cooking stove.
     William raised his hands and asked everyone to be quiet.
     "Ladies and Gentleman,  I know you're wondering what's going 
on.   For years,  now, you've been helping me make the best peach 
ce cream in the world.  And peach was the only kind of ice cream
     Well,  William explained about the pears,  and about his new 
new  flavor of ice cream and a whole new kind of melba,  and  how 
everyone was going to have as much work as they wanted.
     With that news,  everyone was very happy,  and they  pitched 
n,  worked  very hard,  and filled every order for ice cream AND
for Melba. Soon after, the Christmas party began.
     During the party,  William noticed that he hadn't seen Lance 
and he walked into his office to look for the mouse.
     When he entered, Lance was sitting in the comfortable chair, 
once again,  filing his nails.  His short little legs didn't even 
come  to  the  edge  of the cushion.   He wore  a  tiny  pair  of 
     William noticed two miniature suitcases resting on the chair 
beside the mouse. "Going somewhere?"
     "Yeah,"  he said,  without looking up.  "Headin' out to  the 
Coast. If you wanna be a star, that's where you gotta be.  That's 
to."
     "I  could  fix  you up with a nice warm  place  here,"  said 
William.  "That was my end of the bargain."
     "Thanks,  Kid,  but I'm gone.  I got this sudden craving for 
blonds and hot tubs."
     William started feeling sad.  He had come to like the mouse, 
and he didn't really want him to leave.   He went to his desk and 
     "William!"
     "Who's that?" asked William.
     "Who's who?" replied Lance.
     "William, come on!"
     "That.  That voice.  It sounds familiar."
     "Beats me," said Lance. "I think you're hearing things."
     "My mother.  It's my mother," he said excitedly.

                        *    *    *    *

     He opened one eye.  It was his mother, all right.  He opened 
the other eye.
     "Are you going to sleep all day?   There's a whole yard full 
of  snow  out  there to play in and you've got the day  off  from 
     "A snow day?" asked William.
     "That's right," she said as she left the room. "Breakfast in 
five minutes."
     As William sat up and watched her walk down the hall  toward 
the  kitchen,  he  noticed the red and green ribbons he'd  strung 
across  the  ceiling for decoration,  and the  little  red  stool 
feeling better, and happier than he'd ever felt before.


                             THE END


Copyright 1983
Bruce E. Rodgers

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