If I told you that aliens shoplift from Spacy's, you'd say I need a check-up from the neck up. Truth is stranger than fiction, though. Last Saturday night I was late clocking in for the graveyard shift at the Herald Square store, and Lex, a retired cop who doesn't like me, was already working on a box of donuts.
"Where have you been, Tyler?" he mumbled, spewing crumbs. "Signing autographs?"
"I wish. No, there was a subway fire."
"Well glamor boy, the supervisor left us an alert." Lex licked some chocolate glaze from his thumb. "Somebody's stealing single ladies gloves from the seventh floor."
"Hey, this is New York, Tyler. I bet he hides in a dressing room till closing."
"Then how does he leave the store, without tripping an alarm?"
"Maybe he uses the employees' entrance."
"We better catch him." I sat down. "Management will say we're sleeping on the job." I studied our flickering rows of wall-mounted monitors, the dim racks of clothing guarded by mannequins. Nothing budged.
I was just reaching for a donut when Lex's cell phone honked like a taxi. "Honey, I told you not to call me at work." He spun his chair and turned his big, square back. "No, you don't want to throw my loafers out the window. Please, I can explain ..." He spun back: "Hey, Tyler, can I step out for 10 minutes? Elmira's on the corner. I forgot her birthday."
"OK. But if management finds out you slipped away, I don't know a thing."
"Thanks. For a scrawny, wannabe rapper, now and then you do the right thing." Lex slapped me a high five and strutted out, leaving the box of donuts.
Leaning back, I munched a cinnamon one and tried to concentrate on the monitors. Soon my eyelids felt like a sandbox. Most weeks I work at least two jobs, to pay the rent on my shoebox till the music biz gives me a break...
Suddenly I sat up straight as a broomstick. Someone was moving in the glove department. I rubbed my eyes. A bald midget? Was old Lex playing some joke on me?
Sorry I'd let him sneak away, I jogged towards the turned-off escalators, my flashlight putting out a strong beam. The store feels really eerie at night. In the dim, energy-saving lighting, mannequins look like frozen shoppers.
Out of breath from climbing, I turned right on the seventh floor, my footsteps loud as drumbeats. Surely the thief would hear me and flee; I almost wished he would.
Then I stepped on something soft, and pointed my light at a bundle of gloves: all singles. Why had he dropped them here? Was he trying to return them?
At the patter of footsteps I ducked behind a pillar, and a guy the size of my nephew (he's three) came frisking around a full-length mirror, a long, black evening glove on his head. This looked pretty strange, since his eyebrows were missing and he wore grey overalls with matching booties. When I pointed my light at him he blinked -- and dove into the shoe department, toppling an over-the-knee boot with a stiletto heel. And then he crept inside.
How did he make himself so tiny? When I grabbed the boot and shook it, out he hopped and slapped his chest, crying "Zeedo" in a high, thin voice. Then he bounded onto a counter, and a cash register drawer banged shut.
As I raised the counter, to step behind it, the register shook like a leaf. Why had "Zeedo" climbed inside? Had I scared the little guy? I don't look like a security guard; I'm skinny and short, with reddish dreadlocks and one eye that's brown, one blue.
Now Zeedo was whimpering like a puppy. I had a problem on my hands. I didn't want to tinker with the register, though management takes the cash out at night. Too many cameras were watching me, and how could I explain? Lex already thought I'd lost my mind from rapping to ear-splitting music.
I thought about running out of Spacy's; I thought about quitting this lousy job. But I needed the money, and management is just like the NSA. They've got an eye on you; they know where to find you; they'd track me down at Club Graffiti and get me arrested in front of my fans.
Maybe that would help my rap career?
Poor Zeedo rattled the register as if to smash it to smithereens. Slowly, it rose into the air and turned itself upside down.
"Hey man, don't break it," I begged. "I'm supposed to protect this store." Now something tooted from inside, like a jazzy riff on a saxophone. "OK, that's cool; let's chill out here before we pop a gut."
Then, to keep him entertained -- and I couldn't think what else to do -- I started to rap about a little grey guy who steals gloves and dances around by himself. Zeedo tooted along, and I burst out laughing. Was that a giggle from the register?
Suddenly a flash like heat lightning swept overhead, and I threw myself down. Blinking, I saw three more midgets in overalls, all of them bald as billiard balls, and the register dropped to the floor with a crash.
Standing up, I raised my hands and took a slow step towards the newcomers. The lead one blew a reek of garlic at me. Now I couldn't move my arms or legs. Drawing a spoon from his overalls, he spoke into the rounded end:
"Earthling, do not interfere. We want to take our prisoner back. He is hiding inside this box."
"But he didn't do anything."
"Zeedo tried on female clothing from this store."
"Maybe he got tired of grey overalls."
"Variety is not allowed. Brother Zeedo has a dangerous mind; that's why we placed him in life-time storage. He escaped in a garlic shipment."
"OK, OK." I grabbed my dreadlocks. At least I could move again. "Just get him out of here before Lex turns up. That's the other guard on duty, and he won't believe me, whatever I say."
The leader pointed at the register, and the other two scooped it up.
"No, you can't take that with you," I warned. "Management will dock my salary."
"Then you let Zeedo out."
"OK, guys; just give me a minute." Most cash drawers have a secret lever, and I felt for it in back.
"Run," I yelled, popping open the drawer, and Zeedo swooped towards the escalators. As the others scuttled after him, I grabbed a blow-up Statue of Liberty and bowled them over.
"Sorry; it was an accident." I gave them my goofiest grin. Sneering, the leader pointed the spoon handle at me. It looked sharp.
But he just hissed something like a curse, and the trio vanished in a flash of light. Quickly I tidied up the register, and propped the Statue of Liberty back on her display for the Independence Day Sale. If everything reeked of garlic now, this was not my fault.
In the guard room Lex sat hunched with his back to the monitors, eyes bugging out like a frog's. "So did you patch things up with Elmira?" I asked.
"Oh yeah; that woman will always love me. She says I remind her of Pavarotti. But ..."
"As I snuck back through our entrance, a little grey dude came running out. Bald as a basketball, Tyler. And that ain't no lie."
"What are they baking into these donuts? Junk food is destroying your mind."
"You ate some donuts." Lex glared at me like a cop writing out a ticket.
"At least I get some exercise, rapping every Monday at Club Graffiti."
"You're pathetic, Tyler. Why don't you just join the circus, with your mismatched eyes?"
Maybe I should. It would probably pay better than Spacy's Department Store.
Still, I hope little Zeedo got away. I hope he'll be happy in New York, where anybody can fit in. Even an alien on the lam.
Maybe he'll drop by Club Graffiti. We could do our number together, and I could introduce him to my fans.