What does it mean to be strong? Mick Quivers pondered that question over morning coffee at a sidewalk table outside the Roasty Owl. He couldn’t bench press two-hundred pounds, do ten pull-ups, or complete a neighborhood 5K in under thirty minutes. He was non-intimidating, not even five-feet-tall. Too short to be taken seriously, and too tall to be considered a dwarf. He was sandwiched between two realities. If asked, Mick would self-identify as a pip squeak. It took a certain amount of strength and courage to be a pip squeak in a society where tall folks called the shots. Fortitude was the word he was looking for, but it eluded him. His mind went blank, it was too early in the day for deep thinking. Mick sipped cappuccino and wiped the excess foam from the moustache. His whiskers hung down like a hyper-masculine curtain over his lips, concealing his facial expressions. Not that he attracted much attention. He was invisible to the dark-haired woman typing furiously on her MacBook at the next table. His small stature made it easy to fly under the radar, which Mick used to his professional advantage. There aren’t many career options for pip squeaks, either you become a jockey or compete for roles as oompa-loompa or lollipop guild member in local theatre productions. Actors with dwarfism easily sniffed him out as an imposter, threatening him with violence and blackballing him from the community dinner theatre scene. As for the racetrack, he didn’t care much for horses. Without a foothold in traditional pip squeak careers, Mick became a cat burglar. He gained access to homes and businesses, picking locks and sneaking undetected through open windows. He rummaged through drawers for cash and small valuables, often with occupants present. Stealth was the name of the game. Mick tiptoed silently and methodically through bedrooms and offices, taking enough to make his unlawful ingress worthwhile but never more. Many victims were unaware they’d been victimised for several days after a visit from Mick Quivers. He drained his cup and observed the late morning activity. The neighbourhood was gentrifying rapidly. Two years ago, the park across the street was full of homeless crackheads. Silky-haired women joggers with long legs and lip injections now claimed it for themselves. Gentrification was good for the cat burglar business, supplying him with an enviable selection of potential targets, but Mick missed the gritty working-class character of the old neighbourhood. “Excuse me,” the dark-haired woman stopped typing and pushed back her chair. “Can you watch my laptop for just a second while I pop inside?” Mick was surprised to be noticed. He indicated the affirmative. Attracted by the half-eaten blueberry muffin, a bird landed on the woman’s table. Mick asserted his dominance and it retreated. A trio of gangly teenagers walked nonchalantly down the sidewalk, colourful backpacks slung over their shoulders and skateboards under their arms. Back in his day they called kids like these poseurs. Mick sunk low in his chair and watched. The tallest one whispered something to the others as they approached the Roasty Owl. It was obvious what they were after. The tall one lunged out and snatched the the dark-haired woman’s MacBook. Mick crouched under the table, out of sight. The boys scattered. Mick clenched his teeth and pounced, wrapping his pip squeak arms around the gangly teenager’s ankles and dragging him to the ground. The laptop clattered to the sidewalk as the boy struggled to free himself. The teen bucked and kicked but Mick kept him down. The dark-haired woman noticed the commotion from inside the coffeeshop and bolted onto the sidewalk. “My laptop!” she shouted. “Somebody call police!” The teenager freed one leg and landed a succession of kicks to Mick’s head and upper torso. He wouldn’t be able to hang on for much longer. “This guy’s gonna get away if you don’t help me hold him down!” The woman screamed and threw her hands in the air. The heel of the teenager’s Vans connected with the bridge of his nose. “Hit him with your shoe or something!” “My shoe?” “Do something!” Blood streamed from Mick’s nose. He wondered why he bothered to get involved, it wasn’t his laptop and shouldn’t be his problem. A siren wailed in the distance, several blocks away but getting closer. The teenager writhed on the ground, inching up the sidewalk like an earthworm. Finally some backup. The barista, an alpha-male type with a Crossfit beard, removed his apron and sat on the gangly teen’s chest, pinning him to the ground just as police arrived to make the arrest. Mick wiped the blood from his moustache, dusted himself off, and returned to his seat. Officers cuffed the teenage thief and led him to the squad car. The dark-haired woman threw her arms around the Crossfit barista, thanking him profusely for his noble efforts as he smiled and flexed his muscles. No acknowledgement for the pip squeak, he was invisible again. The dark-haired woman exchanged numbers with the barista. Mick couldn’t blame the guy for parlaying his heroism into a potential hookup. Maybe that’s what it means to be strong, he thought, taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. The dark-haired woman kissed the barista goodbye and gathered her belongings. Mick waited for her to cross the street before following. His instincts told him she would lead him directly to her residence. Giddy with anticipation, he lingered behind, just out of sight. Stealth was the name of the game, taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, like this one. Mick Quivers was undetectable, a pip squeak thief in the night. He would find a way inside and take what he wanted and she would never know he was there.
J. Archer Avary is a former TV journalist, champion lionfish hunter, and marine conservationist. He was born in Albuquerque, NM, and lived in several U.S. cities before movingoverseas in 2014.He is now a furloughed aviation worker who lives in Guernsey with his wife.