Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thou shalt not steal

Jimmy was quite good at his craft, and that made him proud. His Pa, though – his Pa could never find out; he was a big stickler for that “honest work” bull, his Pa was. Jimmy was big for his fourteen years, so his Pa had started to bug him more often lately – “it’s time to start earning your keep, Jimmy”, “come work with me at the farm, Jimmy, we could use someone like you”. It was very annoying, even more so because Jimmy did want his Pa to be proud of him, but he wanted to get there his own way.

No, his choice of craft was not that of a farmer, or a carpenter, or anything like that. Jimmy was a pickpocket – a good one, if he said so himself. Minor stuff for now, but he had never been caught – the very thought of what his Pa would do to him if he found out about it gave him shivers – and he was hoping for a big score. Jimmy was sure that his big score was close – didn’t his Ma tell him that “good things come to those who wait”? So Jimmy waited, and practiced.

His Pa was also annoying Jimmy about his friends. He didn’t like them – he said they were a bad influence on him. That was not right – he had learnt his craft from them, and because of that extra money he could afford a few more trinkets. He was even less of a burden in the house expenses, so that had to be a good thing, no?

Still, that big score was the only thing that would solve their problems. His Pa worked at least ten hard hours a day, and barely got enough money to feed them all – Jimmy had a little sister that he loved, and he would bring her little gifts bought with his “earnings”. Sometimes even sweets, though that was really rare. If Jimmy could manage to score big, his Pa could work a bit less, his Ma could have enough money to buy something for herself, and his sister would have everything she wanted. They would all be so proud of him, and his Pa would have to admit he was wrong about Jimmy.

There was one problem that made that big hit unlikely, though, and Jimmy was aware of it: the economy was really bad. People were getting laid off left and right, some of them were even killing themselves when the banks got their homes. It looked like nobody had any money, so where could Jimmy find a sucker with lots of money? He thought about robbing a bank, but he didn’t know how to use a gun, and he wasn’t a bank robber anyway – he was a pickpocket, and he wanted to stick to what he knew.

Until one day… one of his friends found out that someone was going to carry a lot of cash on himself. Jimmy didn’t know how he knew that, and he didn’t care much. Since Jimmy was the best, he was recruited for the job. The sucker was old and careless – Jimmy could spot the big bundle under his jacket from a mile away. The guy was practically begging to be robbed, so what could Jimmy do but be a good fellow and help him out? It’s not like he was harming anyone – the guy surely had plenty more money where that came from, and anyone carrying a large bag of cash should hire some security to help, no? The guy must be a cheapskate on top of everything else.

The job was so easy a kid could have done it. Someone with even less experience than himself, Jimmy thought. The old guy was really bad at taking care of his stuff – Jimmy was definitely going to be a better master for the money than him. All it had taken was a few moments of carelessness, a well-timed distraction provided by one of Jimmy’s friends, and his dream was accomplished – the big hit, finally. Sure, the old guy was a little roughed up, but it wasn’t anything permanent – he was going to be fine. A rich guy like him was sure to have expensive doctors anyway.

Jimmy was ecstatic. Here was his chance to prove his parents wrong – especially his Pa. He was a man now, who would help his family. Of course, he had to take some time to celebrate the hit, and he had to split the loot with the rest of the gang. Jimmy kinda lost track of the celebration – he never had drunk so much ale before in his life, and that was a problem. Still, after the party ended, he still had enough to help his family for a good while, and Jimmy was nothing if not optimistic – more jobs like this would surely come.

So, two mornings after his hit, after trying to put back some order in his looks – it wouldn’t do to have his father start berating him as soon as he entered the house – Jimmy went back home with a smile on his face. His pockets were full of sweets for his sister Lexie, and he even had one good cigar for his Pa. He was going to give it to him and watch him smoke, and hear him tell that he was proud of Jimmy, and that he was indeed becoming a man.

As soon as he entered the house, Jimmy knew something was wrong. Both his Ma and Lexie were crying, and there were a few other people in the house. Some of the neighbors were there, and even Aunt Janet from Boston, who almost never came to visit.

“Ma?” asked Jimmy, “what happened? Sis?”

His Ma lifted her eyes and looked at him. “Oh, Jimmy,” she cried, “thank God you’re ok! I thought I had lost you too!”

“Ma? What do you mean? I’m ok, what happened? Where’s Pa? Lexie, don’t cry,” he continued, “here, I have some sweets for you, I know you like sweets.” He tried to give Lexie a handful of sweets, but she kept crying and didn’t even look at him.

“Oh, Jimmy, my poor boy. I... I…” his mother started crying again.

“Sit down, Jimmy,” said Aunt Janet. “Here, take a seat. Have some water to drink.” She pushed a glass of water to him.

“Auntie? What happened? Where’s Pa? Why is everyone crying?” Jimmy asked, really scared by now.

“Boy, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just gonna say it,” said Aunt Janet. “Your father is dead. It seems that someone beat the farm administrator and stole the money he was taking to the bank to pay the mortgage, so the owner had to close the farm and sell everything. Your Pa couldn’t take the shame of having lost his job, so he hanged himself.”

“What?” Jimmy was sure this was a joke, a bad one. His vision was starting to darken, and he was making an effort to hear Aunt Janet, who kept talking.

“He left you a note,” Janet said. “He wanted you to know that he was always proud of you, and he knew you were going to become a great man. He said he was sorry for failing as a father, and he couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in your eyes. He said he was hoping you will do better than he did, and he asks that you forgive him, and that you take care of your mother and sister.”

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