Evergreen Park was filled with people of all ages that Saturday afternoon. Young lovers sat close together on the wooden benches and stretched out on blankets under the maple trees. Grandmothers read books while their young wards tossed Frisbees, jumped rope, or played tag. Teenagers grouped together jamming to their CDs, playing rap music.
Harlan Hadley stood next to his partner, Leon James, on the footbridge, leaning against the rail, watching everything. They’ve been coming to the park every day for months, scoring their daily prey. High school hadn’t worked out for these guys, nor had working on the fish loading docks. Harlan and Leon wanted a bigger and quicker score. At the ages of seventeen, they had discovered the immediate rewards of purse snatching. They had even managed to steal several cameras and camcorders that turned a hefty profit at Joe’s PawnShop. It was just a matter of finding the right distracted victim. And Saturdays always brought out the best victims.
After thirty minutes of watching, Harlan nudged Leon and nodded. Leon followed his gaze, spying the well-dressed middle-aged woman, sitting on a secluded bench with a small leather purse, a camera and two hyper children.
“It’s paycheck time.” Harlan tugged on his denim jacket and sauntered towards his score. Leon went into backup position.
“Carrie, stop whining. Your father will be here any minute,” the woman said to her five year old who had tears running down her pink cheeks as she stomped her feet.
“But, Mom, I’m hungry. I want to go home now!” Carrie pulled hard on her mother’s arm.
“Stop, Carrie. Just a few more minutes. Your dad said to meet him in the park when his shift was over. He wants to take us somewhere nice for dinner.” With some effort, the mother freed her arm. She turned her back to tuck the blanket closer around her infant son’s neck who had kicked off the covers in a fussy fit. Harlan approached with Leon a few steps behind.
Silent and quick as a cat, Harlan snatched the purse and camera, then sprinted off into the woods.
The woman jumped up with her mouth wide open and stared in the direction of the retreating thief. Before she could issue a scream for help, Leon tore after his partner, shouting, “Don’t worry, ma’am. I’ll catch him.”
A little ways away, Leon found Harlan kneeling behind a clump of elderberry bushes, rummaging through the woman’s purse.
Harlan looked up, grinning, holding a wad of greenbacks and several gold credit cards.
“We eat good tonight, partner.” He peered behind Leon. “Anybody follow you?”
“Nah. They all thought I was chasing you, as always.” Leon pointed to the camera. “What’s that? Doesn’t look like any kind we stolen before.”
“Looks like some kind of camera.” Harlan turned it around in his hands. “Says it’s a Polaroid.” He shook his head. “Never heard of that brand before.”
“Me neither. But it’s gotta be good since that fancy lady had it,” Leon reasoned.
Harlan studied the strange looking camera from every angle.
“I don’t see any buttons. Maybe it pulls apart?” Harlan gripped it hard. The camera opened up. “Hey man, this looks like a clicker button. Hold still.”
Harlan pointed the camera at Leon and pressed the button. A black square popped out. Leon reached for it and stared.
“The picture’s black. Let me try it.”
Leon held the camera, pointing it at Harlan. The same black picture popped out. In disgust, Harlan threw the black squares on the ground.
“Must be busted.”
Suddenly, they heard voices.
“I think they went this way. You look over there. We’ll try over here.”
“Let’s scram,” Harlan said, pocketing the money and the credit cards, tossing the purse aside. Leon scooped up the camera. Both young thieves headed deeper into the woods. The voices trailed far behind them.
“I think we lost them, Harlan.” Leon stopped to catch his breath. He inspected the camera again. “Maybe we can still get a good price for this at the pawn shop. We just won’t tell them that it’s busted.”
“Let me try it again.” Harlan aimed the camera at some chattering squirrels on an oak tree. “Dang. It’s still coming out black.” He tossed the film onto the grass.
“Come on, Harlan. Let’s see what we can get for it at Joe’s. We can’t stay out here much longer. It’ll be dark soon and Joe closes at six. I need some big bucks tonight.”
Harlan took pictures of trees, bushes, and Leon as they walked, tossing each black film on the ground in disgust.
“I just don’t get it, Leon. Why would that woman have this if it’s busted?” He shook his head. “Why can’t they all carry camcorders?”
Just as they were coming out of the woods close to Oakman Bridge, they heard hoofbeats, coming fast. Harlan and Leon spun towards the sound on their left. Barreling down on them, was a mounted police officer.
Harlan tossed the camera into the weeds.
“Stop! Police!” The officer reared in his horse just a few feet from the startled youths, blocking their escape. Two policemen burst through the woods behind them, weapons drawn.
Harlan raised his arms in mock surrender.
“You ain’t got nothing on us, cops. We were just out for a stroll.”
“Oh yeah?” One of the footed officers waved some black squares in the boy’s faces. “These are some really nice pictures you took of yourselves with the camera that you stole from my wife. She gave a real good description of the both of you and the direction you fled.” He chuckled as he reached for his handcuffs while his partner retrieved the tossed camera.
“And they say pictures don’t lie. All we had to do was follow the ‘breadcrumb’ trail you left for us. It was better than Hansel and Gretel.”