DUNEDIN — On Beltrees Street, across from Dunedin Stadium, a mother's rage is on display.
"To the slimeball that stole my little boy's bike from this house," the sign says. "Ever heard of karma, you idiot? My only regret is that I will never know what kind of hell your selfish act is going to bring down on you. You better watch your back dude, cause your payback is coming."
Something about posting that sign made Sylvia Bretz feel better. Scouring the neighborhood had turned up nothing, and she didn't want to waste a police officer's time. But her 8-year-old's bike was missing. So she made the sign.
A laid-off graphic artist, she typed the letter in bold, blocky capital letters and punctuated it with a short phrase: "And you deserve it." She wrapped the sign in zipper bags, to shield it from rain, and posted it on a utility pole in her front yard.
"I didn't want to come off as really nasty or anything, even though I was thinking it," said Bretz, 52. "I don't know. I just kind of wanted (the thief) to read it."
What else is a Mama Bear, as Bretz said, to do when something goes wrong?
She and her son's other mother, Dawn Benduhn, who are separated, are the first to say how protective they are. Bretz won't take her eyes off him on the soccer field. Benduhn, 41, wants to be there at Astro Skate if he needs help with his shoes. Because he's got two moms, they gave him a strong name, Axl Benduhn, to toughen him against insults.
"The idea of him being hurt or disappointed, it physically affects me," Benduhn said. "I physically feel the hurt for him. I physically feel the sadness."
Like Axl, that bike was precious, his mothers said. A black-and-white Mongoose with white spokes, it was the last Christmas present Axl would get from Santa before growing to discover the truth.
It was a bigger bike like the big kids ride. "I think it made him feel more grown up," Benduhn said.
But it's gone now. His mothers doubt they'll see it again. Axl says he's moved on to a scooter. He gives the sign a thumbs up.
Friends and neighbors like the threat of karmic justice, Bretz said, but she's thinking of taking the sign down soon. Mama Bear has made her point.
"Maybe it made me feel I could have some sort of influence in the situation. Maybe it made me feel I could get back somehow," she said. "Maybe it made me feel less powerless."
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.