started. She narrowed her eyes and charged. âThis is my store, Mr. Odder. I pay my taxes and Iâm a law-abiding citizen. I can hire whomever I choose.â
He wiped his sweaty forehead, but it didnât make much of a difference. âI just came to warn you, nice and friendly. My job is to protect the public, to assist ex-offenders adjusting to life in a free community, and to prevent future criminal acts.â He said it like he had that memorized. âThe rules are like thisâif you decide to keep him employed, I can come in here at any time to check up on him. I got Judge Perrelliâs personal orders that Iâm to watch this one specially close.â He showed her some official paper.
Mrs. Gladstone said, âJenna, let Tanner know that Mr. Odder is here.â
I headed in the back as Burt Odder said, âI donât need to talk to him now.â
âNo time like the present, Mr. Odder.â She nodded to me. âJenna . . .â
Burt Odder glared at me like Iâd better not go back there.
Do I obey the law or The Law? I decided to obey the one who signed my checks.
I rushed into the back. Tanner was sweeping up, doing a really thorough job, too, getting all the dust balls from the corners. He probably learned good sweeping skills in prison. My warning bells were clanging.
âListen,â I said, âthereâs a guy out there you know.â
Tanner looked concerned. âWho?â
âUm . . . Burt Odder.â
Tanner threw the broom against the wall. The stick broke in two.
I stepped back. âI think youâd better come.â
He didnât move.
âYou did a good job on the floor, Tanner.â
He clenched his fists, shoved them in his pockets. We walked out on the sales floor. Burt Odder smirked. âOkay, you know the routine.â
Mrs. Gladstone snapped, âI donât know the routine, Mr. Odder. Explain it to me, please.â
âHeâs gotta check in with me when I say and stay clean. Isnât that right, Cobbie?â
âYeah. Thatâs right.â
âAnd weâre happy to know heâs going to be helping out here at the store.â He said it like it was all a good joke.
Burt Odder jingled his keys, turned on his cheap plastic soles, and waddled out of the store. It was like watching a bad storm pass, hoping it hadnât left too much damage.
Mrs. Gladstone said, âTanner, you can go back to what you were doing.â
I carefully avoided the back room until we ran out of peds; unfortunately, thatâs where they were stored. Murray and I flipped a coin to see who would go in. I lost.
I poked my head in the door; Tanner was creating a recycling space, putting all the supplies in order. The peds were on the shelf across the room. How to build camaraderie and remain uninjured?
I did a quick dash across the floor, saying, âThat guy Odderâs a genuine jerk.â
Tanner slammed twine and scissors on a shelf.
I reached up on the high shelf and got the peds. âThat must be hard to have to report to somebody like that.â
Tanner moved behind me. âWhat do you know about it?â
âNothing. I was justââ
âWhatâtrying to help ? You want to rehabilitate me so you can put a badge on your arm, show you did your good deed for the day?â
I spun around. âNo. Thatâs notââ
âYou got some kind of thing to prove with me?â
âThatâs not fair!â
âI donât come from where itâs fair!â
He grabbed a box of shoes and threw it against the wall; he hurled another one, swearing. I dropped the peds, tore out of the back room, and almost crashed into Mrs. Gladstone; sheâd been standing at the door.
âJenna,â she said, âstay here.â
She marched into the stockroom. â Mister Cobb, I have no idea what your life has been like. I have no idea what it is like to try to play