SHELLY'S WORLD: Fiction... The Happy Store – The Wood Giraffe

By Shelly Reuben
SHELLY'S WORLD:  Fiction... The Happy Store – The Wood Giraffe

Clementine tackles an ethical dilemma in her 42nd adventure at The Happy Store.

 Billy Ferris had been coming to The Happy Store since he was a rookie patrolman. In those early days, he was a square-jawed youth with a high forehead, a squashed nose, and light blue eyes. Twenty years later, his jaw was craggier, his eyes were lighter, and in some unfathomable way, he had become handsome.

His maiden voyage to the store was in response to a 911 call about a robbery in progress. He and his partner nabbed two teenaged junkies running out the door carrying an assortment of silver napkin rings, demitasse cups, and ornamental hedgehogs. It was never established what they intended to do with their loot – open an Ill-Gotten Gains Boutique? Barter for drugs? – but junkies rarely have the marketing skills of venture capitalists, so it was probably just as well for them as for society that they were apprehended.

During that first encounter at The Happy Store, a corduroy sofa caught Billy’s eye ($499.99. Final sale). After the felons were arrested and the reports were written, he went back to the store to buy it. Since then, whenever he needed anything he couldn’t find at a hardware store or a grocery, he returned there, his favorite purchase being a mango wood desk at which he did his law school homework at night. As soon as Billy passed the bar, he retired from the police force as a lieutenant and went to work as a defense attorney for O’Reilly, Belton, and Bamberger.

Enter: The Wood Giraffe.

It arrived one day in a carton almost eight foot long. It had been carved from a single piece of Albasia wood, and relative to other specialty items in The Happy Store, the giraffe was the tallest it had ever sold. From its hooved feet to the two stubby knobs on top of its head, it measured seven feet, with ears like giant butterfly wings, a mid-section a little under 12 inches wide, and a shyly amiable face.

From the day that it was unpacked until the day that it disappeared, it was always on display. But much as customers oohed and aahed about its charm and affordability – $149.99 with 25% off if you opened a Happy Store credit card – no one actually expressed the desire to buy it.

At Christmas, Clementine plopped a green velvet elf hat on its head. On Valentine’s Day, she dangled red hearts from each of its oversized ears, and before Easter, she slipped a floral wreath around its three-foot neck, whence it dropped to the giraffe’s waist and looked look like a cross between a hula skirt and a tutu.

Because it was only one of (literally) thousands of intriguing items in The Happy Store, it took Billy Ferris over six months to find the giraffe. But the minute that he did, it was love at first sight.

When he was in seventh grade, Billy’s class was told to write reports about wildlife on African Savannas. He had hoped to be assigned a cheetah or an elephant. Best of all would have been a hippo or a lion. But much to his (initial) regret, he was given the giraffe.

In the course of doing his research, however, his disappointment turned to respect. He learned that at 20 feet or higher, giraffes are the tallest animal in the world. They can go for weeks without drinking; their spots are as distinctive as human fingerprints; they run up to 35 miles per hour, sleep only in 20 minutes snatches, and … this was most important to Billy … they have big hearts. Hearts that weigh up to 25 pounds!

Best of all, he thought as he finished his report, a giraffe can kill a lion with one a single savage kick.

“Ha!” Twelve-year-old Billy exploded with glee. “Who’s the King of the savanna now?”

Admittedly, from seventh grade until thirty-years later when he came upon a seven-foot wood giraffe in The Happy Store, he had not given those graceful, if improbable, creatures a single moment’s thought. But once he did, he kept coming back to gaze and gawk at it … like a besotted teenager staring at a silver Sting Ray Coupe Corvette.

Then, one day in August, about a year after it had first taken up residence, Walter Graybill glanced toward the space where the giraffe had always stood and was shocked to realize that it was not there.

He did not know where it went. Nor did Betty Davis or Athena Eliopoulis. As to Clementine, she was on vacation, and was not around to ask. The store manager, however, had his suspicions. So when Billy Ferris came in the following Saturday, Walter walked right up to him and said, “Sorry to have to break it to you like this, but If you’re looking for the giraffe, it’s gone.”

Billy gave the store manager a cockeyed smile. “I know. I bought it.”

Walter snorted, “About time, too. It took you long enough to make up your mind.”

“I didn’t, though.”

“Didn’t what?”

“Make up my mind. Clementine made it up for me.”

Then, seeing both skepticism and interest on Walter’s face, Billy went on, “After I passed the bar exam, I thought it would take me weeks … maybe months … to get a job. I wanted to go private, but I couldn’t afford to hang out my own shingle. So I sent out resumes.”

“And?’’ Walter prompted.

“And a big criminal defense firm downtown was looking for an attorney with law enforcement background. Ideally an ex-cop. Next thing you know, I was hired.”

Walter asked, “So, what’s the problem?”

“Two problems.” Billy replied quickly. “First, ethics. Second, accoutrements. Ethics relates to defending a sex crime I was assigned. Accoutrements relates to my new office.”

Walter nodded that he was still listening.

“The sex crime was disturbing because the victim is 16-years-old.” Billy added with a sorrowful look on his face. “She writes poetry, wants to be a pediatric surgeon when she grows up, and she’s pretty,”

“Go on.”

“I looked over rape cases that the firm had previously handled, and their strategy was always the same.”

“What?”

“To blame the victim. Dig up dirt and state or imply that she was quote, asking for it, unquote. So, my dilemma was whether I wanted to acquiesce to company policy or …”

“Or what?”

“Exactly,” Billy sighed. “Or what?”

“You mentioned accoutrements?” Walter prodded.

“Yes. All the firm’s lawyers decorate their offices the same way. Family photos, large framed diplomas, and sports trophies on shelves. A lot of them. Some basketball. Some baseball. But usually golf.”

“Do you play golf?”

This time it was Billy who snorted. “Hell, no. I spent my whole life arresting bad guys.” He straightened his shoulders and looked Walter dead in the eye. “What I’d really wanted for my office was to hang my favorite paintings of African elephants on the wall and put your lunatic seven-foot giraffe across from my desk.”

His dropped his head. Then he abashedly admitted, “But I didn’t have the guts to buy it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I wanted to blend in … in how I defended my clients and how I decorated my office. I was desperate to make a success of my new job and afraid that I’d get fired before I’d cashed my first paycheck.”

Walter’s expression did not change, but his eyes glinted with curiosity.

Billy continued, “Then last Thursday, Clementine saw me pining after the giraffe and said, ‘For God’s sake, buy the damn thing already!’ I told her about my problems at work, and she was even more emphatic. ‘I think Mister Giraffe should be your conscience and your role model. If a weird-looking mammal with a 25 pound heart can kill the King of the Jungle with a single kick, then surely you can defend an alleged rapist without besmirching the reputation of a 16-year-old girl.”

The store manager’s bushy eyebrows elevated in disbelief. “Clementine really said ‘besmirched’?”

“She did.”

“And you bought the giraffe?”

“I did. Turns out the other attorneys at the firm love him and all my worries were in vain.”

“What about the rapist?”

Billy smiled. The first real smile since he had entered the store.

“The evidence against him was circumstantial, so I dusted off my cop hat, did some investigating, and found an I-wouldn’t-have-believed-it-if-I-didn’t-see-it-with-my-own-eyes doppelganger of my client. Same face. No alibi. Damning DNA. The prosecutor dropped the charges and arrested the other guy. The 16-year-old victim got justice, and I don’t feel like a louse."

“Congratulations. But what are you going to do the next time an ethical dilemma comes along?”

Billy frowned for a moment in thought. Then his eyes lit up. “I’ll consult my sidekick.”

“The giraffe?” Walter asked.

“Yes. For the easy ones.” He rubbed a hand over his five-o’clock shadow, grinned, and added, “But for the really tough ones, I’ll just come here, explain the situation, and ask Clementine what to do.”

 

 

Copyright © 2020, Shelly Reuben - Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com

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