“God, I hope there’s a lot of bling up in there. Gold is going fucking crazy right now, thanks to Bin Laden and his boys. Never thought I’d say anything nice about those towel heads, but damn they really made all the rich folks paranoid as shit.” Richie stopped long enough to take a loud drag from his 46oz. Pepsi, which was sweating all over the interior of my Ford Explorer. I was watching the water drop – stream, really – down the sides of my center console, leaving trails that I’d be wiping down tomorrow. I wasn’t terribly concerned about water marks – I just didn’t want to make eye contact with Richie. To do so was to acknowledge the point he was trying to make - which always led to him expounding further. I was desperately trying to avoid this.
He continued anyway.
“You know what I mean? I heard that dude Joe got like $10 a gram offa the Monk last week. Shit’s going crazy.”
“Mm,” I mumbled agreeably, still avoiding his eyes. I checked my mirrors, ensured that nobody was walking up quietly behind us from the Explorer’s many blind spots. We were parked outside of a house we knew to be empty on a darkened street in a decent neighborhood. The house we were outside wasn’t our target, however – that would be too obvious to anyone who happened to peek outside tonight and then heard two nights from now about a robbery across the street. No, our mark was down the street, nearly a quarter of a mile behind us. I knew the car the owners of the house drove, and we were parked on the only route out of the neighborhood. I was giving it another 30 minutes and then we were going to call it a night. If our mark’s car cruised by, then we were on. I knew his car from jogging expeditions in this neighborhood. I saw him come home – and stay home – each night around 6 pm. Except for Friday evenings, when he and his wife went out to dinner for about 2 hours. As near as I could figure, Mr. Mark kept Mrs. Mark tied up in a closet the rest of the time, and Friday night dinner was her reward for keeping quiet about it. Christ knows I had no idea what the hell went on in the decent parts of this town.
“God, I hope--” Richie started to repeat, practically rocking in his seat.
“Shh. Shut up. I think this is him. Get down.” I slunk down in my seat, Richie doing the same in his. The shadows in the car elongated, then moved in concert with the passing car. I gave a silent three count and slowly slid back up in my seat. “Yes – it’s him.” The mark’s car headed down the street and around the corner, out of sight.
Richie was reaching for his door handle when I stopped him.
“Richie…you ever forgotten something and turned around and went back home for it because you were still in your own neighborhood?” I asked him, leaning heavily on the condescension. I rarely asserted myself with him - usually only when I truly held the argumentative high ground.
“No,” he moped in a tone that made it clear that yes, he had in fact done so many times.
“Mm hmm. Give it a minute.” I replied.
I’m sure there are some questions about how I manage to pull off these thefts. How I get into and out of places so easily? How I avoid detection? Well, first of all, I do this in Boise, Idaho, where all you usually have to worry about are 6-foot fences and unlocked back doors. There’s not any real gymnastics involved. I don’t practice parkour; that shit’s for Los Angeles. And teenagers, for that matter. I’m fucking thirty-seven, for crying out loud. How do I live with myself? How can I justify taking that which doesn’t belong to me, violating one of the most sacred institutions – A Man’s Castle – without dissolving into a puddle of second-guessing self-hatred? I take 100mg of Zoloft daily. Not only did it help me to quit smoking cold turkey, but I never really get guilty or anxious anymore. Even when I should. So that’s helpful when, you know, you’re doing a little breaking and entering on a weekly basis.
There’s nothing terribly sexy about what I do. Nothing glamorous. The most exotic thing I see regularly is The Monk’s parlor, which is where we sit down and conduct business. It’s one of those rooms that you’ve seen in the movies; rich, dark woods, rich, well-worn leather chairs, rich roaring fire in a gorgeous rich fireplace, rich sixteen-foot ceilings. Except I don’t typically enjoy being there. It’s not that I don’t find it impressive – I do – it’s just that I’m usually groggy and my ears are ringing.
Let me back up a bit here.
Before I got into this business, I had to dispense with a couple of preconceived notions. Some of them I figured out for myself, but some came from listening to Richie.
Listening to Richie is like when your golden retriever attacks your wife’s jewelry box and eats her wedding ring. You find yourself listening to a lot of incoherent venting, then you follow the dog around the backyard all weekend. You sift through a lot of shit, but eventually you find what you’re looking for, even if the dog doesn’t know what you’re up to. Or Richie.
You know what I mean.
One conceit is that people are smart about the valuables they own. Fortunately, for me, that’s not true. People tend to live in a state of comfortable denial. They rarely entertain the idea that any of their precious things might be stolen. If they ever did, they’d never sleep, never relax, and never be able to actually enjoy said precious things.
Another is that the police force is stupid. At least, too stupid to catch you. This is incredibly shortsighted and naive. The police are more organized than you, much better armed than you’ll ever be, and employ far superior communications. To not plan for the police to be waiting in the living room of your next ‘score’, to not expect them to be standing there, in force, when you walk out of the front door, is to be ill prepared.
My most recent realization was this: the people at the top of the food chain – the criminal food chain – don’t do stupid things. They don’t act on their impulses like guys do in the movies. They rarely threaten anyone directly, almost never threaten families, and will do anything…anything…to avoid killing someone. Guys who do act like this? They never make it to the top. They are the general population of the Idaho State Prison System.
Where was I? Oh yeah.
To cash in on these items I’d stolen, I had to get them to The Monk. To get to The Monk, I had to endure Richie. The Monk, as you might have surmised, never spoke. Not for religious reasons, mind you. Just for reasons that he didn’t choose to share with anyone. Richie, on the other hand…Richie never shut his fucking mouth.
And The Monk is my shitty diamond ring
The Monk won’t allow any direct connections to him. You can’t drive to his place. I mean, I’m assuming it’s a house somewhere that I get taken to, but for all I know, this ‘parlor’ is in one room of an industrial warehouse made to look like a house. So how do I meet up with him? It’s like being kidnapped, just not against your will. Actually, it’s exactly that.
Here’s the deal: I break into a house and steal, oh, let’s say three gold necklaces, two rings, some hopefully sterling silver candle holders, and forty-eight dollars in loose cash. I pocket the cash; that’s always mine. The other loot goes into a waterproof plastic container – doesn’t really matter what kind. An empty one-gallon milk container, for example, rinsed out thoroughly. The loot goes in there, the container gets sealed shut and placed in the drop.
The drop is the place that The Monk has instructed me to place the loot. He instructs me to do this by writing it on a little piece of paper which he lets me look at for about 30 seconds, then crumbles up and tosses into the fireplace. And he watches it burn. He makes sure. The drop will be something like ’to the left of the blue dumpster behind the McDonald’s on Fairview and Milwaukee.’ Not the green dumpster…the blue one. If I happen to not remember the location of the drop, well…I don’t get to fence the items I stole. And bear in mind – I don’t want these items. Holding on to the items you steal is just ignorant. I don’t even like having to drive them to the drop, but there’s no choice. My photographic memory helps me a lot with these drop locations. God only knows how other people remember it.
So, when I leave my loot at the drop, there’s an encrypted note telling me where and when to be for The Monk’s guy to pick me up. Sometimes it’s that night; sometimes it’s later in the same week. It varies. And it’s never the same location twice – just like the drop is never the same place twice. My encrypted note tells me where to be. I had to memorize the encryption code too…bastard gave me a full minute to memorize that. It’ll decode to say something like ’an alley behind Josie’s bar on Thursday at 7 pm.’ If I’m not there, I don’t get paid. The Monk just picks up my loot from the drop and keeps the money.
I always make sure I’m there.
Last time, the note said to wait in the parking lot of a bar and grill in a strip mall. A van pulled up, a guy got out. We exchanged code words. I get blindfolded, handcuffed and earbuds put in my ears.
Sometimes it’s metal, sometimes hip-hop. It’s always deafeningly loud. But, if I put up with all of this, then the next thing I know, I’m sitting in a rich, comfortable chair in the parlor of The Monk with sore wrists and tinnitus, and quite possibly the lyrics of a Ludacris song repeating in my head.
It’s a living, right?