by M.K. Caudle
$4.50 goes a long way at the local thrift shop.
|"Your mission should you choose to accept it," said Tess "is to be the voice of reason, to steer me away from the temptation of the crazy and wonderful coats that are hiding on this glorious rack and force me to buy what we came to this hallowed place to obtain: a sensible workplace appropriate jacket."
Arlo pulled out a school bus yellow puffer jacket, "I accept the mission, but maintain that the lime green jacket with hot pink unicorns is workplace appropriate."
"Yes, well Corine from HR thinks otherwise," Tess beamed with delight pulling out a fuchsia and green color block ski jacket. "If I get to wear my neon snow jacket, she has to let Dion wear his grumpy cat necktie and Michelle gets to put up her poster of the lion on stilts chasing a giraffe and before you know it people are laughing! They’re using space heaters! Cheeky and vulgar mugs are coming out of everywhere just beating every ounce of professionalism out of our once respectable office. And that, Arlo, would be the death of workplace formality as we know it.”
Arlo picked up a long blue coat made entirely out of a shag material. Her eyes popped, “It looks like someone bagged the cookie monster!” She put it on and did a little catwalk strut.
Tess laughed, “I love it!”
“Well then it’s definitely all wrong,” Arlo put the cookie monster hide back on its hanger. “Good-bye, my darling.”
Arlo and Tess sifted through the coats, there were some real stunners: a metallic pink cropped parka, a red pleather trench coat with faux fur cuffs that went up to the elbows, and a bomber jacket with a gemstone bulldog on the back. Then they found it. A heavy toffee wool maxi coat, still sporting all the buttons and no second-hand stains.
Tess slipped the coat on and twirled, “What do you think?” She inspected the garment as she spoke, flipping open the pockets, tugging the buttons. “Someone did one heck of a hack job right here, but it should be easy to fix.” She pointed to some jagged stitches halfway up the seam of the front panel.
“Actually, I really like it,” Arlo reached out and touched the arm of the jacket. “It looks like something Megan Markle would wear.”
“Respectable but glamorous?”
“Sophisticated even,” Arlo stepped back and framed Tess with her fingers. “I can see you now on the cover of a tabloid that is about to get very sued.”
“Won’t Corine be pleased!” Tess skipped down the aisle a little, her black hair trailing behind. “Now let’s find something for you.” She stopped, flicked through some rejects: a teal twill blazer, and some run-of-the-mill parkas with faux fur trim. "We’ll wear our respectable coats and get a respectable cup of coffee and walk around a respectable neighborhood and glare accusingly at all the people who are less respectable than we are.” Tess's hands twitched and she snatched up a forest green evening coat.
“Oh, how delightful!” Arlo tipped her nose in the air. “We are going to need kitten heels, and scarves…and clutches.” She flung the coat over her shoulders and offered her compatriot an elbow.
“Respectable ladies like us wouldn’t go anywhere without a clutch!”
An hour later they emerged from the thrift shop completely loaded down with shoes, scarves, hats, gloves, and for no real reason whatsoever a lamp. They ambled the four blocks to their apartment looking more like little old bag ladies than Megan Markle.
They poured the contents of the bags out on the floor of the living room. The lamp, like a lot of other things Tess dragged home, was a peculiarity. It kind of looked like a bronzed palm tree with a cluster of light bulbs where there ought to be coconuts.
Arlo began the task of removing tags from their treasures. Among the pile, she found a black leather-bound notebook. It was beautiful.
“That’s for you,” Tess called as she disappeared into the kitchen. “A place for all your slam poetry, or erotic haikus or whatever it is you are working on these days."
Arlo took the book over to the desk stationed under the window and set it beside her very happy spider plant. A book like that had to be written in. It was far too grand a book for phone messages, which unfortunately accounted for the vast majority of what she’d written lately.
When Tess returned, she had her sewing box and two mugs of tea. She sat in the middle of the floor and started ripping stitches. “Do you want to try that new place down the street? I think I saw a coffee roaster in there.”
There never seemed to be any shortage of new places to try around their neighborhood. It was what real estate agents call "up and coming". Which basically means the rent has been jacked up to get rid of all the poor people, but the rich people haven't shown up yet. Aside from the Indian restaurant downstairs and the art gallery that was never open, nothing lasted more than a few months.
“Do you think they have food?” Arlo asked. “I want soup. Remember that place we went to that had like fifty different kinds of soup? Is it still there?"
Tess didn’t reply, she just sat there staring wide-eyed into the coat.
“Hello,” Arlo called in a sing-song voice. “Tess, it’s Arlo calling.” She peered over her catatonic friend’s shoulder. “Holy pretzel!”
Tess stuck her hand in and pulled out a thin wad of hundred-dollar bills. “There must be thousands of dollars here,” she whispered.
Arlo grabbed a stack of her own and sat beside Tess. For what seemed a very long time, neither spoke. They just stared at the money and then at each other and then at the money again.
Abruptly, Tess stood up and locked the door. She zipped over to the window and pulled the curtains tight. Tess nearly leaped across the room when a car door slammed outside. She kept one eye trained on the door.
They dumped the money out onto the rag rug.
“We should count it.” Tess waved her hand over the pile.
Arlo nodded and took a sip of her tea. “Where do you think it came from?” She had never seen this much money. It made her feel dizzy like she might be sick. Yet she couldn’t help laughing as she counted.
"Drugs maybe?” Tess peeled the curtain back just a little and peered out at the street below. “You don’t think anyone saw us. With the coat I mean.”
Arlo shrugged, “If they did, I don’t think it would matter. I mean it wouldn’t have been at a thrift shop for $4.50 if anyone knew what was inside.” She patted the floor next to her. “Maybe it was just old people. When we cleaned out my Gran’s house we found money all over the place: in old tobacco tins, taped to the underside of drawers, in the heads of those creepy porcelain dolls…”
“It’s twenty grand,” Tess gasped.
Arlo’s cheeks were beginning to hurt from grinning. She clapped her hands, “Oh my elbow and my wig!” She stood up and did a little dance. “What should we do with it? Oh, Tess, let’s go to Spain! Let's go to one of those hotels with the fluffy pillows and just like take a mud bath and drink peach bellinis by the ocean!”
“Shhh! Someone might hear you!” Tess snapped. “We can't do that anyway. This is all cash. You have to pay for plane tickets and hotels with credit cards, you know in case you’re a serial killer or something.”
“So that’s a yes on the peach bellinis?”
Tess paced the floor. Her eyes were wild. “We have to hide it. And we can’t put it in the freezer. That’s where they always find the drug dealers stash in cop shows, I bet that’s the first spot criminals look now, is in the freezer.”
“We live in a crappy apartment over a take-out restaurant,” Arlo rolled her eyes. “Nobody is going to be looking through our freezer."
“How do you know! Maybe the thrift shop was some kind of drop-off spot.” Tess peaked out the peephole into the hallway. “We can’t hide it in the toilet either, that was in a movie I think.”
“Ok crazy. You need to take a break from the crime fiction," Arlo rubbed her temple. "If I help you find somewhere to hide it, can we please go have dinner and celebrate? We will be paranoid and practical tomorrow. But right now, I want to eat, drink, dance, and dream about our Spanish vacation. Olay!”
Tess bit her bottom lip and shrugged. “We need like a floorboard that lifts up or a book that’s hollowed out.”
"Or a giant floor lamp that looks like a palm tree?" Arlo put the lamp over her knee and removed the base. The trunk of the hideous tree was entirely hollow.
Once the money was safely stowed in the lamp, they got dressed for a night on the town. Arlo called a cab. Standing by the desk she looked down at her black notebook. She grinned, opened it up to the first page, and scrawled “Tess and Arlo Catch a Break”.
The cab pulled up and the driver laid on the horn. Tess refused to wear her new sophisticated coat. She checked to make sure the door was locked three times before scurrying down to the cab.
With five hundred dollars in her clutch, Arlo descended the stairs feeling like a queen, a queen in a hand-me-down dress and drugstore makeup.
As Tess and Arlo pulled away in their royal cab, a man strolled casually out of the restaurant.
Shards sighed and jogged to Leon’s car halfway up the block. He knocked on the window, “That’s them, they picked up the stray package.”
“Those little girls? The ones just barely outta pigtails?” Leon shook his head. This new drop system was a nightmare, he didn’t understand what was wrong with the art gallery. “They got it on ‘em?”
“Nah, they found it. The little one’s jumping around like a cat looking down the barrel of a squirt gun.” Shards opened the passenger door and sat down. He had a big brown paper bag with grease seeping through the bottom. “It’ll be stashed up there somewhere.”
Leon reached into the bag. He gazed affectionately at the golden-brown samosa. He waved the delicious morsel at Shards. “I told you we shoulda put it in that blue one. Nobody woulda bought that ugly thing.” He rummaged around in the bag for a napkin. “Alright, kid, get up there and fix this. And check the damn freezer this time!”