Little Susie Prikster skipped down the sidewalk, dress billowing, curls bobbing, and smile beaming.
“Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me, ” she sang. A nine year old full of energy, Susie twirled as her curls unfurled, the sun shining just for her. “Hi Ms. Langham! It’s a beautiful day. My mommy says hello!” She just kept on skipping and hopping and jumping. “Hello Mr. Schmidt. Your garden is so pretty.” Little Susie Prikster beamed happiness everywhere she went. “Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me.”
After much skipping and jumping and bouncing and, of course, singing, Little Susie Prikster arrived at the object of her sun-beamed journey: the Axton Village General Store. She knew she was in the right place because there was the giant one-ton axe in front. No one in Axton Village could miss it; it was the symbol of their community. It was on the flag, the village stationary, and all the road signs. When people thought about heavy, useless tools, they thought Axton Village!
Susie paused in front of the giant axe for just a moment, swaying back and forth as she clutched the two dollars her mother had given her for a candy bar on account of her being such a good, wonderful, special little girl. She kept on humming, “Kitty cats and pretty hats…” She knew in her heart that this would be the best candy bar ever!
Little Susie Prikster danced into the store, and she was greeted by Saul Gregory, store proprietor and local frisbee champion. Townsfolk thought it was years of practice that allowed Saul to throw a frisbee farther than anyone in the tristate area, but most people neglected his ample waist size and resulting low center of gravity as key assets in his talents. When he wasn’t throwing a frisbee, Saul collected buttons from vintage clothing, but this was a minor hobby not relevant to our story.
‘Well, if it isn’t Little Susie Prikster! I must be living right to have this little beam of sunshine bounce into my store.”
“Hi Mr. Gregory,” Susie sang. “The axe out front looks better than it has in a long time. Have you been polishing it?”
“Well, Susie, how kind of you to notice. How can I help you on this fine day?”
“My mommy gave me two dollars because I’ve been so good. She said I can buy a candy bar for myself. And, Mr. Gregory, I have been good. Honest. I helped my grandma clean her house, I helped the teachers at school get the chalk out of the erasers, and I always feed Goliath, our toy poodle.”
“Well, Susie, it does sound like you have been very good. You mommy must be really proud. Our candy bars are over there on Aisle…,” Mr. Gregory began to explain, but he stopped mid-sentence when he heard the front door of the store swing open violently. As the door bounced off the wall behind it with a thud, the air in the store sucked out and in came town drunk Billy Jack McCusker. Six feet tall and 150 pounds soaking wet, Billy Jack had shoulder-length hair, patches of hair around his face that some people referred to as a beard, an earring with a long feather on it, and ratty clothing that had not known soap in many a fortnight.
“Billy Jack! What are you doing being so rough with my front door!” Mr. Gregory exclaimed. Billy Jack loped through the aisles up to the counter where Mr. Gregory and Susie stood. He wrinkled his skinny nose and rolled his tongue around his mouth as if he couldn’t get a foul taste out. Shoulders hunched forward, hands jammed in his dirty pockets, Billy Jack McCusker was a sight to behold. Little Susie Prikster recognized Billy Jack from her skipping and hopping forays around town, but such a smelly, dirty presence did not invade Little Susie Prikster’s world of sunshine, goodness, kitty cats, and pretty hats.
Billy Jack stopped ten feet from Mr. Gregory and Susie. He didn’t say a word but just stared at them, snarling.
“Billy Jack, now what is wrong? How come you are coming into my store with this foul air about you. Did you see Little Susie here?”
“Shut up, old man,” Billy Jack ordered as he, with surprising speed, drew a gun from his pocket and pointed it right at Mr. Gregory.
“What?” Mr. Gregory explained as his mind took in the unexplainable scene. “Billy Jack, what are you doing? Why? Put that gun away.” Mr. Gregory took a step toward Susie, intending to put himself between the gun and Susie.
“Stop. Stop right there. Do. Not. Move. You are going to go over to that cash register, and you are going to empty it. I want everything you have, old man. I want it wrapped up in a paper bag. Throw in a donut while you’re at it. I’m leaving this town, and you’re gonna help. Hear me? No funny stuff. Now move!”
“Okay, Billy Jack, okay. No need to shout. How about you put that gun down? I’ll be happy to help you,” Mr. Gregory croaked out, as he looked down the barrel of Billy Jack’s gun. As frightened as he was, he did take a little pride that his homemade donuts had made an impression on even Billy Jack.
“This gun is gonna stay right on you the whole time, old man. Now move!”
“Okay, okay. I hear you. First, though, can we let Little Susie go. This is between you and me. She’s a little girl Billy Jack. Please? You don’t want to hurt her.”
“I’m not going to hurt a little girl. Now stop stalling and fill up a bag with your cash, and now I want two donuts,” Billy Jack countered. His eyes were spacey and he breathed heavily, but his arm and the gun never wavered. It wasn’t clear if the drool in the corner of his mouth reflected his perpetual drunkenness or the imminent arrival of some of Axton’s finest donuts. One could not begrudge Billy Jack the latter, for they, like Mr. Gregory’s frisbee abilities, were unparalleled in the tri-state area.
Relieved that Billy Jack had no intention of hurting Susie, Mr. Gregory stepped away from her and moved toward the register. “It’s okay, Susie. I’m right here. I want you to look at me, okay Susie? Just keep looking at me. It’s going to be okay,” Mr. Gregory promised.
“No, it’s not going to be okay, Mr. Gregory,” Susie protested. “Billy Jack McCusker,” Susie’s curls whipping around a half second after her head, “My mommy says you are mean and she is right! You are not nice! I don’t like meanies.”
“Now, Susie, sweetie, just keep looking at me, okay. No need to talk to Mr. McCusker.” Mr. Gregory pressed the button to open the cash register, and it sprang open with high pitched ding. As he reached down to grab a paper bag for the cash, he pushed the silent alarm. With any luck, Officers Smith and Wallace would arrive in a few minutes.
“Put it all in, old man. I want every…Ouch!!” Billy Jack cried, as he began hopping on one leg. Mr. Gregory looked up to see Little Susie Prikster standing just two feet away. Her shiny black patent leather shoe had landed a kick square into Billy Jack’s shin.
“You should be ashamed,” Susie yelled with all the rage and power a nine year old girl in a sun dress and pig tails can muster.
“Owwwww!! Why did you do that,” Billy Jack cried as he continued to hop and dance.
“We are nice and kind and honest here in Axton Village. This is not good behavior!” Little Susie Prikster instructed, her arms akimbo, her gaze boring an intense beam of judgment right through Billy Jack. A nine year old pillar of morality.
Saul Gregory watched the surreal scene, his hand frozen at the bottom of the paper bag. The donuts were in, but he hadn’t emptied anything from the register. Luckily, Susie’s kick to the shin had distracted Billy Jack, and, now, Saul heard the police sirens.
Billy Jack finally stood up straight, his feather earring still swinging in and out of his stringy long hair. He looked at Susie, then at Mr. Gregory, then at the paper bag, and, then, at the ceiling, as he finally clued in to the sounds of the police sirens closing in. Billy Jack pocketed the gun, ran to the counter as best he could with one throbbing leg, grabbed the bag, and ran out of the store, carefully avoiding Little Susie Prikster’s surprisingly sharp patent leather shoes.
And, like that, he was gone. It was over. Mr. Gregory stood, with the register still full and open, and just stared at Susie. Susie smiled and proclaimed, “What a meanie!”
“Are you okay, Susie?” Mr. Gregory asked.
Officer Smith burst into the store. “Saul, you okay? Wallace is chasing Billy Jack. We saw him running down the block. We got backup coming.”
“Right behind you, Bob,” Mr. Gregory yelled, as he ran to the front. “That drunk’s got two donuts that belong to me and I want ’em back!” He grabbed a frisbee as he ran out the door, knowing he could down a man at 20 yards with a flick of his powerful wrist.
Officer Smith and Mr. Gregory ran down the block, leaving Little Susie Prikster in the store all by herself. She looked around and started to twirl. Her dress rising and falling to her beat. She skipped down the first aisle, skated down the next, and hopped like a bunny rabbit down the aisle after that. Then, she stopped and smiled. And then she smiled even more. She went to the candy aisle and slipped two candy bars into her dress pocket. Then, she danced up to the register, climbed up on Mr. Gregory’s stool, took one hundred dollars and put it with the two dollars already in her pocket, and jumped down. Another hop, a twirl, a skip, and then a bow.
She laughed and sang and twirled and skipped all the way home. Her blond curls waving in the wind. “Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me.”