I throw a tarp over the tank muzzle and tell my grandson to tie his corners down tight.
"Isn't this stealing?" he asks.
"No, stealing's when you take something that doesn't belong to you. This is different; there's a word for it - I just can't think of it right now. It's an adult word, all right?" Skipper owes me about what this is worth. "Now pay attention and tie your knots tight. I don't want this tarp blowing off when we hit the highway."
I regret the kid's seeing me do this but I couldn't get a sitter. Even if I had he would have asked where I was going and that would have meant telling another fib. He is opposed to lying; he believes any dishonesty will keep you out of heaven. He is as worried for me as himself, since this Sunday school class where they went over the Ten Commandments. The school nurse says such worriers often pick little worries to cover up their big worries, which didn't make a lot of sense to me and still doesn't. He's nine and he's already asked me why I'm being so sneaky about this, and I've been evading the question. I told him I better not catch him doing anything like this - for example, clipping a kid's bike who's cheated him at marbles. I've always said to expect the best from people and you'll usually get it, but in the end, I'm terrible with words. Even if I tried to explain, he wouldn't understand. I dial my buyer: he's waiting, with the forty grand.
Last week the bank foreclosure people stormed this place. My boss Skipper just laughed; hell, his pension's safe from creditors, being under his wife's name or something. I had no idea he had gone so deep into hock to start the new sales department. Me, I started looking for things to steal. I'm seventy-two and all I've got are a shack with a leaky roof and two bad knees. That day I poked around the storage sheds and sail lofts, places that I'd walked through - let's see, working six days a week for the past forty years, probably twelve thousand times - so I had a pretty good idea where to look for something to steal. But Skipper's Connecticut brother Phil had beaten me to all the old whaling antiques, which just left me feeling more like a fool. I kept going, and I found this nice 1944 Sherman tank tucked in the rear of Shed 7. They used to ship a lot out of here during the war. Judging from the fresh paint on the intake manifold, this must've been one of the ones forgotten about. I had the grandson go on the computer to see what it was worth and didn't he get an offer from this collector. Forty grand cash, more if it still had the firing pin, which it does. I mentioned the twin secondary fifty calibers and he went nuts. The meeting was arranged for this evening.
My grandson breaks my dream. "Grandpa?"
"Tell me again how this is not stealing?"
"Stealing's when you take something that's not yours, that you haven't paid for. I paid for this."
"Years of no appreciation."
"Skipper paid all your back wages."
"This is for lost future earnings."
"You got offered another job."
Did he mean the bait store? Repairing fishing reels for four friggin' bucks an hour? "That's not the point. Don't let me hear you say `steal' again." But he was starting to mind worm that business from the paper about senior versus junior creditors and how in a bankruptcy everyone has to get in line with the faith of Job. I made the mistake of giving him this big long lesson on fairness - sticking to it until, of course, I began to realize that Skipper and all the guys I thought were my friends were sticking it to me. I am not a thief. I haven't stolen anything in my life.
"Grandpa, the gate guard just drove off to get coffee."
I drop the flat bed into low one and release the clutch real slow, leg shaking, scanning for cops. None. The tank creaks. After clearing the gate, I head north, thinking how good that retirement money's gonna feel in my hands.
I can see the orange glow of the highway tucked in the ridge off in the distance, and the nerves started in on me again.
"Restitution - that's the word I was looking for."
"What's that mean?"
"It means making someone whole. I'm making myself whole before I lose the farm, okay? Now, I've told you everything, no omissions. I've been straight-up honest."
"I just don't want - forget it."
"I just - don't start thinking this is the way to settle disputes, okay? Stealing is stealing, fighting for what's yours is fighting for what's yours. You'll find out as you get older what the difference is." I shift into second and beat the yellow light at the next intersection and catch Main Street toward the highway. He seemed to buy the skinny little explanation, but then again, maybe he was just beginning to grow up and realize it was time to go silent and let me deal with things in my own way.