Could you hold off a sneeze if it meant staying out of jail?Momma always used to tell me "Never stifle a sneeze. It's unhealthy." Now I had to sneeze real bad but I couldn't risk it. Sneeze and go to jail, it was that simple. From my hiding place beneath a shelf in the storeroom I could see the dust swirling around my head as
it passed through the beam of the watchman's Mag-lite. The particles were walking through my nasal passages wearing baseball cleats.
My partner, Lou, had jumped out the same back window we had jimmied open to break into this liquor store.
He had assured me that this would be an easy job. Right now, with my heart pounding and my nose twitching, I was hoping that he had been caught by now and that he had told them that he was alone on this job.
There must have been a silent alarm. Not five minutes inside and the cops were swarming like flies on crap. “No alarm system of any kind,” Lou had said. When Lou had come to me with the plan I knew it was too good to be true. A window on a back alley with no metal grating on it. One beat cop, hard of hearing, to look after this and sixteen other shops. But to top it off, the proprietor was using a Royal cash register, model 12. The only thing holding this baby shut was a roll pin that engaged a catch on the left side of the drawer. It was hardened steel but I could saw through it with the right blade in seven minutes, tops. The right blade was a Blue Diamond with 24 double hardened teeth per inch on a tempered back. I had brought a dozen of them.
If I could remain here undetected until the cops were satisfied that the place was empty I would have a pretty good chance of getting away when they left. But above all, I couldn't sneeze.
Whenever Ma would see me with my finger under my nose she would say "Let it out. If you try to stifle it the germs will back up into your inner-ears and they'll get infected."
I could think of so many times when it would be a good thing to be able to stop yourself from sneezing when you had too. Like when you sneezed in a restaurant, all the people would look around at you and worry that they would catch your cold.
Or when you are in a movie theater and you sneeze, people will look around at you because you have disturbed their enjoyment of the film. There are lots of times when you don't want to sneeze. A person should be practiced up for those occasions.
It was looking good. The cop had walked by my hiding spot, had gone up and down all of the other isles, and he had turned out the storeroom lights. If I could put up with five years worth of dust for a little longer I could save myself five years of hard time.
I could hear one of the cops talking on the walkie-talkie. Apparently Lou had gotten away. Since I had shoved the hacksaw blade into the side of the cash register when I heard them coming, it would appear that nothing had been disturbed. And the blade might sit there for years without being discovered. Even if they did find it, the thing wouldn't have any prints on it. I was careful that way.
Maybe they would be leaving soon. Suddenly the storeroom lights came on again. Were they going to take another look around? I could see a pants-leg near the door then a hand reach down to pick up an empty cardboard box. The lights went out. I could hear the clinking of bottles as they took them from the shelves and put them into the box; and not the cheap stuff either I'll bet.
Involuntarily my eyes began to close. I knew I was going to sneeze. Maybe they were far enough away so that they wouldn't hear it. I wouldn't bet on it. I clamped my mouth tight and closed off the passage in my nose. Then I contracted my chest muscles as the sneeze made its way upward. My head jerked forward, then again, then again. I got dizzy. Tiny white dots swam inside my eyes. I had muffled it. I lied there as quiet as I could; not even breathing; just listening for them to come back here for a closer look. I waited for the lights to come back on. Seconds oozed past. I could hear them talking in the other room. Slowly I resumed my breathing and lowered my head to the floor.
The lights went out up front then I could hear the door closing, then silence. I waited for about an hour then got the hell out.
As a mechanical designer at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Jim has had many interesting contacts with particles of all kinds, but he still stifles his sneezes. Check out his photos and writings on his web site.
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