I’m almost done writing this story line. I’ve decided to begin releasing it in longer segments. I haven’t titled it yet, so I’m open to suggestions. I’ve always been awful at titling my work. For now, I’ll simply call it “Phillip” because he’s the only character to whom I’ve assigned a name.
I get out of prison this Saturday. 10 years sure seemed like a long time to me when I was 21. Someone told me that my twenties would fly by. They told me I’d be married with a family before I knew it. Someone lied. Of course, my twenties were a bit different than that of most young gentleman. Most gentlemen my age were learning a trade or trying to court a woman. I was surviving. Come to think of it, I’ve always been surviving.
Oh, how rude of me, I haven’t even introduced myself. Phillip, professional thief – er – sorry. I was a professional thief before I got caught. It was a set-up. There was this job. It seemed like a pretty simple heist, but it turned out to be more complicated than that. They hired me to crack the safe, but that wasn’t actually what they wanted. They needed a fall guy to cover their escape and, being as young and naive as I was, the choice was obvious.
I don’t talk about it much. I used to bitter about it. It was hard for me to sleep at night, partly because of how horrible these beds were, if you could call them beds. I got used to them. No, it had a lot more to do with what I would think about after the guards turned out the lights. I used to fantasize about catching up to the guys who set me up and what I’d do to them if I ever caught them. That’s a pretty big “if” though. They were more like ghosts than people. I don’t even know their names. I hardly remember what they look like. And besides, that was years ago. 10 years is good time to think, but more importantly, it’s good time to forget. That’s what I wanted to do, at least.
Sunlight broke through the window above my “bed,” casting long, thin shadows from the window’s bars along the wall. I roll over and look at the calendar I carved into the same wall.
It was Saturday.
Getting out of prison is about as glamorous as getting in; lots of waiting, paper pushing, standing, and hand cuffs. They have me change into some uncomfortable civilian clothes. They give me an itchy shirt, patched trousers, suspenders with rusty clips, a jacket about as thick as newspaper, some old shoes that didn’t fit, and a dirty hat.
I hadn’t looked better in 10 years.
Once I change and they finish stamping all my papers, they walk me outside to the gate. There, they hand me a burlap sack and tell me this was to help me start a new life. The warden walks over to me. He takes off my cuffs.
“Congratulations, Phillip,” he said, gesturing toward the road beyond the gate. “You’re free to go.”
He smiles at me. I feign a smile back. He extends his hand, still smiling. I reach out and shake his hand. I walk out the gate and hear it to whine to a thud as it closed.
And that was it.
The prison was located on a hill not far out from the city. I stand on the street for a few minutes taking in the city before me. Sunlight hits my face. It was warmer, somehow fresher than in the prison yard. I take a deep breath. The air tasted better. It was less stale. A breeze catches my jacket, pulls my hat off, and tosses my dark hair. I crack a smile for real this time. Then I pick up my hat from where it landed a few feet away. I turn and look down at the city and wonder how much it’s changed in 10 years. I untie the drawstring on the sack and look inside. There was another pair of trousers, another shirt, two pairs of underwear, $100, and a sandwich. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a joke, but I chuckle like it was. I’m not sure how they expected those things to help me start a new life, but nevertheless, I tied the sack up again and sling it over my shoulder. It wasn’t really important. I had other plans. I turn, take one last look at my home of the last 10 years, and start walking down the road toward the city.
I walk down the rural road from the prison that leads into the city. There’s tall grass and open, downhill fields which afforded me a great view. Every mile or so I’d pass the odd mailbox, only a small hint that anyone actually lived on this much land. Their long driveways disappeared seemingly miles away into small specks that vaguely resembled enormous country manors. I remembered those from my ride in to prison 10 years ago. And just like 10 years ago, the thought crossed my mind of how many valuable things they might have, how easy they might be to take, if they would even miss those things once I had . . . .
I snap to. I shake my head and try to place the thought behind me. That was a thought I hoped to leave behind me along with . . . well, everything else. I had other things to focus on now. Only a handful of automobiles actually drove by me on the road. A few them, appropriately, drove down the long driveways toward the country estates. The type to own estates in the country are some of the few wealthy enough to own one of those automobiles.
By the time I had made it to the edge of the city, the sun was high in the sky and I’m feeling ready for my sandwich. I sit down on a bench on a street corner and take my sandwich out of the sack. It’s warm. In a bad way. I peel the bread apart and look at what’s on it. Some ham, a slice of cheese, and some mustard. This is significantly better than prison food. I take an excited bite and lean back on the bench. I spread my arm along the back of the bench, cross my legs, and look around.
This side of town is quiet. I’m still far from downtown. There is a small convenience store, a bank, and couple other buildings I can’t identify. I guess they’re offices. There’s only a handful of people out walking around. They look like they’re far too busy going somewhere else to possibly want to hang around here. I could relate. A kid selling newspapers catches my eye. This didn’t look like a busy part of town to be trying to sell papers. I take the final bites of my sandwich and brush the crumbs off my lap. I walk over to him.
“Hey, kid,” I say.
“I’m not a kid, I’m fifteen!” he retorted, indignant.
I just stare at him for a moment. “Yeah . . . anyway, can I buy a paper?”
The kids eyes brighten up. He apparently forgot that I had insulted him. “Yeah! Of course! Just a nickle.”
I reach in my pocket and feel the lint. I wince. The only money I had was the $100 bill in the sack. “Listen ah, you don’t have change for a hundred bucks, do ya?” I say.
The kid laughs out loud and looks at me. I just keep looking right back at him. “Oh, you’re serious,” he says. “What are you, some kind of high roller?”
I feel a puzzled look cross my face as I consider what I’m wearing and how long it’s been since I had a good shave, but nevertheless, I decide I’ll play.
“Yeah, of course I’m a high roller,” I assert, “Do you have any idea who I am?”
The kid opens his mouth and begins to form an answer. I interrupt him, “Doesn’t matter. Now you got change for me or am I buying my paper somewhere else?”
The kid is frazzled and tries to pull himself together. “Uh, yeah, yeah, sure. Of course I got the change.”
“Let me see it first”
He pulls a pouch out of his pocket and opens it up. I quickly tally it. He’s got more than enough. That strikes me as odd that a kid selling newspapers has change for $100, but I bite.
I hand him my bill. He hands me a paper, and some crumpled bills. He starts counting coins out of his purse, but I see him do a sleight of hand and count the same nickel three times. He’s trying to short change me figuring I won’t notice 15 cents in 99 dollars. Smart kid, I think to myself. He’s probably been doing this all morning. No wonder he’s got change for $100. He holds his hand out to drop the change in mine. I open my palm and let it fall.
“Thanks kid,” I say.
“You’re welcome, mister!”
“But can I have the rest of my change?”
He stares at me, confused and afraid that I’ve caught him, “Wha . . . um . . . what do you mean?”
“Your sleight of hand was slow. Also, you counted each coin individually and drew my attention to it. You were too thorough.”
I reach my hand in his purse and grab 15 cents. I lean in really close to him and quietly say, “Next time, kid, distract me from what you’re doing. Get me to talk about the weather or my family. Anything to take my eye and my focus away from your play.”
I lean back and smile really big. Loudly, I say, “Yeah, I hope this weather holds too! I’ve got a fun trip planned for the family this weekend! Thanks again!”
I walk away. After a bit I turn around, smile, and wave at him. I shoot him a wink and he smiles back. Kid’s good. I was around his age when I started.
I keep walking through the streets toward downtown. It’s early afternoon now, so I figure I’d like to have a cup of tea and read my fresh paper. After a few minutes, I find a little tearoom and walk inside. It’s quaint. And quiet. There’s only a couple people inside including the elderly lady keeping the place. The chairs and tables look old, but well worn. A lot of interesting people have sat in this tearoom over the years. I suppose they’ll add my name to that list. I approach the counter and wait for the woman to acknowledge me.
She turns and sees me, “Oh! Hello dearie! I apologize, I didn’t see you there!”
“No problem,” I assure her. I lean in and ask, “Do you have any Earl Grey?”
She chuckles a little. “Well, it wouldn’t be a right tearoom if I didn’t! Go ahead an grab a seat dearie, I’ll start making it for you.” I start to reach for my pocket to pay when she inquires, “Is this your first time here?”
A broad smile spreads across her face. “Then your tea is on me today. Go grab a seat.” She waved me away the way a mother waves her children away from cookies fresh out of the oven; with only the most pleasant of smiles.
I grab a seat at a table a few steps away. I take off my hat and place it in front of me on the table. I pull my paper out from under my arm and give it a whip to open it. The headline glares at me in dark, bold print:
SAN MARCO CASINO SAFE CRACKED! POLICE DUMBFOUNDED!
The cover photo had a big picture of an open, empty safe and a few police standing around it. I smirk and start reading. Casino jobs were always my favorite. The elderly woman comes by and drops my tea off.
“Your tea, dearie.”
“Thank you,” I reply, not looking up from my paper. The woman lingers a moment, then glances at my paper.
“Oh you’re reading about that safe cracking!”
I turn and look at her. “You know something about it?” I inquire.
“Oh, it’s the strangest thing. Plenty of people have tried to rob that casino but this one was different. The safe was locked up in a room with guards on watch all night, but when they opened it in the morning, it was empty! The police haven’t been able to figure it out.”
“Sounds like an inside job,” I mutter, “Classic.”
“Sorry, I’m a little hard of hearing,” she leaned in, “What was that, dearie?”
I raise my voice a little and over-enunciate, “I said, ‘sounds like a tough job. Classic.'” I drop the enunciation and continue, “You know, a tough job for the police.”
“Oh right! Well, I agree! That does sound difficult. Hard to catch someone when there’s no evidence.”
“Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a pair of scissors or something with which to cut out this article, would you?”
“Well, sure, dearie! Let me grab that for you!”
She bustles off and returns in a moment with a pair of scissors which she hands to me. I quickly cut out the photograph and the headline. I stuff the clipping in to my jacket pocket and leave the rest of the paper on the table. I stand up and put my hat on.
“Are you leaving, dearie?” she asks.
“Well, I just remembered a very important meeting I need to go to and . . . uh . . . well, I need to go to it. Thank you for the tea. It was lovely.”
“But you haven’t tried any!”
As I walk across the tearoom and toward the door I say, “Ah, but I needn’t taste it to know how delicious it is! Tea is all about the aroma,” I grab the doorknob, open the door, and turn back to face the woman, “is it not, misses . . . ?”
“Please, just call me Mary, dearie,” she said with a smile.
“Mary,” I smile at her, “can you tell me how to get to the police station from here?”
“Sure,” she says, “Just go down three blocks until you reach the square with the fountain. It’s on the square.”
“Thank you Mary.”
“Oh! I didn’t catch your name, sir!”
“No,” I smirk, “You didn’t.” I walk out and shut the door behind me.