Today is my 87th birthday. Exactly three years before I plan to die – I am a stickler for even numbers, and 88 is just too young – and fifty years since I stopped keeping track of my age. I was only reminded of this unpleasant fact when I happened to glance at the birthdate of the man whose wallet I was holding. Marcus Cannon and I shared the same birthday; although thirty years apart. Inside the inner pocket which contained exactly $37 dollars in a mixture of 5’s and 1’s there was a note reminding him to attend his party later this evening. I almost felt sorry for the poor sucker who would surely miss his celebration and disappoint all those charming, yet ridiculous people who still plan birthday parties. I had a small moment of pity overcome me where I considered returning the wallet – short $37 of course – but then I recapped on all the effort I put forth to reach into his pocket and only to gain such a measly amount. Really, what could anyone buy with less than 40 dollars besides bus fare nowadays. How could anyone expect me to survive off of such a poor return?
To the ignorant fool that is perhaps now snooping through my personal diary – really how rude people are now – if you haven’t caught on to the general theme, let me take time out of my busy schedule to explain. My name is Reginald Barbo. I was born in the winter of 1929, and I am a pickpocket. I know, I know that sounds like an amazing and extravagant career, and it really was for a time. I can remember 10 or 20 years ago when a man could make a decent life out of what he discovered in other people’s pockets. It really is quite shocking what you can find in this particular vocation. I once stood beside this unfortunate fellow on the street as we waited for the bus and found an entire collection of extremely valuable baseball cards hidden in the depths of his back pocket. Having little to no knowledge of baseball and its history I took them to a dear associate of mine, perhaps associate is the wrong word, nemesis would be better to describe Chatsworth. A grouchy old fellow who lives above a women’s hair salon on Corner St. and who shorted me nearly 10,000 dollars when he took those cards to the market. They were still quite a treasure though, and I was able to finally move into the coveted London Lane that was the center of all life in Jersey, where I relished every look of fascination I received by my new neighbors.
Indeed, pickpocketing provided me with plenty of opportunities and for the earlier years of my life I was awarded a very grand lifestyle. During the years after the second World War I considered myself to be the luckiest sod that ever walked the Earth. My neighbors were some of the wealthiest contenders in society and I was stealing right from under their noses. None of them wondered where I went to every day. They did not worry about my family heritage. The only thing that was important to them was that my home had more rooms than I needed. Three stories high with the classic Greek pillars and the wide front door my house was the highlight of the community. Its attendance capacity exceeded that of some of the finer homes and its garage held more cars with more gadgets than even James Bond would have use for.
It was the lifestyle I had always wanted and I enjoyed every minute of it. You may be surprised, Reader, but I actually became quite influential in certain circles. I once even had both the President of the Republic of Chad and the Queen of Denmark dining on peach Jell-O in my front dining room. Later that same evening the President caught me around the corner next to the entrance of the wine cellar. His shirt was unbuttoned to the middle of his chest and his eyes were starting to droop. He must have had a taste of the Dalmore 62. One of the most expensive things I own, and also something I was not willing to share. I suppose I was mistaken in believing that surely, some things could be kept sacred while hosting a party of politicians.
“Reggie…Reggie, sir.” There was a helpless giggle and then the President began to tilt sideways onto the wall of stacked wine bottles. I gave a helpful shove and he was forced backwards onto his buttocks. My wine safe from any immediate damage I leaned down to look the President up close. Though his stiff, black hair was cropped short it did not save it from becoming victim to an earlier attempt at lighting the candles around the living room and there were distinct, small splotches where I could clearly see his brown scalp. His face was sweaty and enflamed, which along with the ritualistic scars along his cheeks created quite the intimidating image despite his current location – sprawled across my cellar floor.
Finally recognizing me he said, “Aaah, Reggie! There you are! Please…” there was another long pause. “How do youuuuu manage to keep so… so… so wealthy?”
The slur in his voice was beginning to grate on my nerves for at the time I truly could not abide drunkenness. So, I simply said, “By keeping my wits about me.” As I passed him to return to my guests I considered looking through his pockets. But, no I had to have some rules, and stealing while in your own house was just a dumb move. There was too great a chance that the blame could always fall back on the host.
It was rules such as that one that helped me to maintain my outlandish lifestyle for many years. Despite the rate that fellow pickpockets were dropping out of the game due to law enforcement, lack of virility on behalf of the pickpockets, and the growing tenacity in our victims to no longer carry wallets, I remained steadfast in my role as a twisted Robin Hood. A man that kept the money he took from the rich for his own gain and never considered returning it to the poor.
The level of ease to which I was able to pull off my pickpocketing deeds was entirely laughable. An easy smile here; a hand in your pocket. A laugh and point there; an unclasped necklace. A whisper in their ear… well you get the idea. I spent years smiling to their faces and laughing behind their backs without ever being suspected or caught. Well, except for that time in Holland. That dirty old rat, McGavers, just couldn’t bear it that I was who his friends, his co-workers, even his wife admired endlessly. I was the epitome of everything they aspired towards. A richness beyond measure with seemingly no effort put into creating it. I can still remember the dumb look on his face when his plan was foiled and he finally realized I was beyond his reach. What is it they say now? Oh yes, priceless.
Of course, if he could see me now I would not be wearing such a smug expression on my face. Sitting in the corner of this decrepit subway, surrounded by hoodlums and troublesome children; I cannot imagine a better revenge for old McGavers. What was once a promising occupation and an even more promising master of such a trade has been reduced to only occasional victories and at the first opening of the wallet; even less rewards. The money I have gathered together over recent years has only been enough to pay the rent and buy a few shots of whiskey.
I cannot pinpoint the exact time or place that my career was shoved down the toilets, never to see the grandeur that it once was, but it might be in some relation to that one time when I was quite literally shoved down the toilets. Of course, I couldn’t go far which my attackers quickly realized and so they resorted to emptying me of my pockets, as I had theirs, and placing me in the custody of the local police. It was there that I spent about a third of my old age and once I was freed to walk among these new age of compact telephone holders and swipe here technology that I realized I was quite out of place.
Yes, I made several unnerving discoveries that year, one of which was brought to light when I found I had quite a talent for drinking myself into a stupor. The unearthing of this particular gift was dusted off with a fine tooth comb when I stumbled across the local bar during an evening filled with self-pity as I traveled the streets of downtown Jersey. It was only after further excursions to the dark and moody Crossroads that I discovered the fellow patronage attempting to waste time away from the outside rush were also fellow pickpockets. Apparently some years back it became the resident safe haven for retired and washed up old farts who once excelled in the art of stealing. It is now where I travel to every Monday thru Thursday to meet with Chatsworth, the ugly toad that he is, and relish the good old days and share our scorn for this new modern age.
The doorway is something you might miss, walking along the sidewalk. Sheltered between two decaying, gray buildings the only indication the establishment is a bar or even exists is the beer bottle shaped sign hanging above the head of each passerby. The interior is like any other bar in the city; dark and smoky from the cigars. The tables are all wooden and without cushions. Even the bar stools are an ancient, creaky oak and of the ten there is only one that is currently occupied as I step over the threshold.
Chatsworth did not look up as I walked towards him and like always he did not return my greeting as I sat down beside him.
“Why can you never sit on the next stool over? Your stench ruins the taste of my scotch.” He mumbled, glaring at me in the mirror in front of us. His reflection was slightly obscured due to the many cracks from sudden barstool being shoved into the glass, but I could still make out the snarling features of Chatsworth as he stared me down his squinty, yellow eyes.
“As always, Chatsworth, it’s so sweet to see you.”
After requesting a beer when the bartender, Jerry, turned to me I gave Chatsworth a short once over. The edges of his sweater were beginning to fray and after glancing in the direction of his feet I could see his yellow sock peeking through the top of his worn loafers. His entire demeanor is a man that has been beaten and yet I have never known someone who has withstood the odds more than crinkly old Chatsworth.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you. How did you get that nickname?”
Chatsworth finally turned to face me directly, and I could not hold in the short giggle from escaping me when he said,
“You know exactly how, you damn, bloated cockroach.”
I, in fact, did know how he received his unfortunate nickname and though some of the details have escaped me over the years I do recall he had once had an infatuation with the Cavendish family of England. After some time had been spent mooning over their wealth and class, he attempted to sneak into the Chatsworth house itself. Of course, due to the disastrous results of such an effort, he was forever doomed to be reminded by the unofficial naming ceremony performed by his Uncle. This particular service is the very reason he is even now unable to sit upon his bottom for longer than three hours at a time.
“At least I am capable of handling a cellphone despite being ten years your elder,” Chatsworth growled and returned to his drink. This irritating fact struck a cord and after giving him a deadly glower, I too turned back to sipping my drink.
Although technology and to be exact cellphones, has been around for quite some time I still had no concept of how to manage them. Though this lack of knowledge continues to hinder my productive career as most people in this generation no longer carry cash. Instead, they rely on things like credit cards and mobile swipe or some such thing. I’m convinced the downfall of society is right around the corner, and it can be directly blamed on the death of face to face relationships. Everyone is too busy staring at those damn bright boxes that the value of things like cash and a good handshake have been completely lost in the twist of the hourglass.
Chatsworth was mumbling something, and it interrupted my musings. I glanced at him quickly after his mumbling began to gain volume.
“Look, you idiot; at the door.” He whispered harshly in my ear. I turned to do as he said but misjudged the amount of space between my hand and the glass, sitting in front of me, and it crashed against the floor. There was not much liquid left inside the bottle but what little there was able to reach the pants of the newcomer. This supposed individual that Chatsworth found to be so important for me to see was wearing a uniform. A blue uniform to be exact, and as he stepped further into the bar, I could see he was perhaps thirty years of age and already beginning to bald. His attempt at hiding this fact by brushing his thin wisps of hair across his head was not very successful and though I tried not to look too long at his diminishing hairs my quick glance was still caught as proven by the thinly veiled threat in his stare.
“So sorry, friend, let me –” My sentence was cut short by his quick hand gesture, and as he stepped forward I realized he was not interested in apologies.
“I am here to speak to Reginald Barbo. Do you know him?”
Chatsworth and I were both quite capable of handling this sort of thing, as we had years of experience, so knowing that any glance towards each other would speak volumes to our friend in blue we instead stared directly ahead.
Chatsworth spoke first with a growl of “Sure, I know old Reggie.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his response. Honestly, what is so hard about using my full name. I’m not twelve, for Christ’s sake.
“Do you know where he is?”
I decided to take my turn and said “What’s all this about? Is he in trouble?”
The officer looked confused at first and then seeming to remember what he was wearing he looked down and then back up sheepishly.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to scare you. I guess I wasn’t thinking.” His attitude had quickly turned from a harsh regulator of the rules to that of a hopeful teenager almost. He smiled, and his face began to take on a reddish hue. The shuffle of his legs made a rustling noise as he continued, “I’m just here to ask him… you see my mother had heard… I know it’s illegal, but…”
“Spit it out already!” Chatsworth choked out over his drink.
“Well, okay. I was hoping he would take me on as his protégé.”
It was at this somewhat smoother reply that Chatsworth gagged on his drink and me, staring quite dumbly, whispered under my breath.
“Oh good lord.”
I stared, dumfounded for seemingly several minutes until he continued on with his request. He began by listing all of the useful ways he could use it to benefit the law enforcement.
“…As an undercover cop I could easily retrieve narcotics or even place wires in the criminal’s pockets unawares.”
It was at this sensible pleading that I began to feel quite queasy. Chatsworth as well was starting to look a little blue around the lips. We had spent our lives evading these stuffed up buffoons and now one of them is requesting our help by the usage of the very tactics we were once punished for. Honestly, the thought is enough to make a man go mad. It questioned the very laws of nature.
“It would be a great help and you could even be cred-…” I stopped him before he could continue any further with his ridiculous sentiment.
“How is it you know about what I, I mean Reggie, does?” I asked with my brows raised. His response was slow and it seemed to take him by surprise that I even asked.
“Well everyone knows what you do Reggie. The force has been watching you ever since you got out.”
This was perhaps the worst news I had ever heard and I quickly hid my face in my palm, only half listening to Chatsworth grumble and the man carry on with his persistent prattle. I thought, Honestly, could this day get any worse, and then I noticed between my fingers the distinct square shaped bulge in the man’s front pocket.
I sighed quietly and whispered, “Really, Reggie. It’s not as if you were busy.”