Gus stopped his truck in front of a small house with brown siding. Paint was peeling from the dark-brown trim around the windows and door, and the roof was missing more than a few shingles. The blinds were pulled tightly shut, and a rusty No Trespassing sign hung on the chain-link fence. “Warren has some memory problems,” Gus said, opening the gate, “so I’d better go talk to him first to make sure he remembers we’re coming.”
Logan and Spike waited next to the pickup, watching Gus as he talked to Mr. Pritchard on his front porch.
“There’s something weird about his hair,” Spike said, watching as Mr. Pritchard seemed to be moving his hair around on his head.
“I think it’s a wig,” Logan replied after studying it for a few minutes.
“Yes,” Gus said with a grin as he returned to his truck, “Warren has a toupee.”
“A what?” Spike asked.
“You know, a hairpiece. Not everyone is as comfortable in their own skin as I am.” Gus laughed, lifting up his straw hat to rub the top of his bald head. “Warren has been wearing that rug for as long as I’ve known him.”
“Does he know he isn’t fooling anyone?” Logan asked.
“I doubt it.” Gus laughed again. “And nobody’s gonna tell ’im either.”
Gus took a ladder and some wooden boxes out of the back of his truck. “Let’s get started.”
The guys had been picking peaches for about forty-five minutes when Gus received a call on his cell phone. “That was Hank,” he told the boys. “Norman got stung by a bee and slid off the ladder. They’re working a few blocks away. I’ve gotta take the first-aid kit over there and fix his bee sting and scraped leg.”
With that, Gus got in his truck and drove away. Spike and Logan continued picking peaches. “These peaches smell so good,” Spike said. “Do you think it would be okay if we ate one?”
“There’s plenty of them.” Logan was standing next to a tree with branches so loaded with peaches they touched the ground. “I’m sure no one would miss a couple of peaches.”
They each pulled a peach from a tree and washed it at the faucet. The peaches were amazingly sweet and juicy. “This tastes so good,” Spike said. “Maybe we can take some home when we’re finished.”
“That would be great,” Logan agreed. “Maybe my mom will make a peach pie.”
The boys were still enjoying their peaches when they heard a pounding noise coming from a window in Mr. Pritchard’s house. They looked up to see Mr. Pritchard shaking his finger at them. His hair seemed to move up and down with the movement of his finger. Suddenly Mr. Pritchard’s face disappeared from the window and reappeared at the back door.
Raising the broom he held in his hand, Mr. Pritchard shouted, “Don’t you move! The police are on their way. I’m tired of you kids stealing my peaches!”
“But . . . but . . ., ” Logan stammered.
“Whatever you’re trying to say, save it for the police. This time I caught you in the act. You two are in big trouble!”
Within ten minutes, a police car pulled up in front of Mr. Pritchard’s house. As the officers came through the back gate, Spike and Logan let out a sigh of relief. They immediately recognized Officer Mills and Officer Fillmore. Officer Mills was a hefty man in his midforties with a red face and short brown hair. Officer Fillmore was a tall, slim black woman with a pleasant smile. Both wore uniforms. They were the police officers who had been on duty when Beth Anne was lost. “I hope they remember us,” Logan whispered to Spike.
“Yeah, they’ll know we wouldn’t steal peaches,” Spike whispered back.
“What seems to be the problem?” Officer Mills asked.
“These two boys were stealing peaches off my tree. They even had the nerve to stand here and eat some!”
Officer Mills looked at the half-eaten peaches in their hands. “What do you boys have to say for yourselves?”
“We’re helping the senior center pick peaches,” Logan tried to explain. “Gus brought us here.”
“If you’re supposed to be picking peaches,” Officer Mills asked, “why are you eating them?”
“They smelled so good,” Spike was finally able to speak. “We just wanted to taste one.”
“You boys look familiar,” Officer Fillmore said. “Aren’t you friends of Beth Anne?”
“Who cares who their friends are?” Mr. Pritchard shook his broom toward the boys. “They’re stealing peaches. Haul them to jail!”
“Sorry,” Officer Mills looked sadly at the boys. “If Mr. Pritchard presses charges, I’ll have to take you in.”
“I’m pressing charges!” Mr. Pritchard insisted. “So take them away!”
“What’s going on?” Gus asked as he hurried through the gate. “Did someone get hurt?”
“These boys were stealing peaches off Mr. Pritchard’s tree,” Officer Mills explained. “He’s pressing charges. So I’ll have to take them in.”
“Warren,” Gus said patiently, “do you remember me telling you I’d be out here picking peaches with two boys?”
“I remember you said you’d be picking peaches. I don’t remember anything about any boys.”
“We did have permission,” Gus assured the officers. “These boys are volunteers at the senior center. See, it says so on their shirts.”
“That’s right!” Officer Fillmore smiled. “These boys are Handy Helpers. They help out at the senior center.”
“I had to leave for a bit,” Gus explained. “That’s why they were here alone.”
“Everything seems okay to me,” Officer Mills turned to Mr. Pritchard. “Is everything okay with you?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I’m going back in the house. Go ahead and pick the peaches. Just don’t let those boys eat them all.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Spike said with a groan. “The way my stomach feels right now, I don’t think I can eat anything!”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon