“SO ABRAMSON from Accounting comes in and holds up the Year End report and pulls out this lighter and says he’s going to set fire to the thing as a protest, and everyone’s like, whoa Abe don’t do it man, the sprinkler will come on. And he only has two shirts and alternates them every second day, so he’s standing there in his sad stained shirt with this little blue plastic lighter in one hand and the report in the other hand, and he just kind of sags and then after the longest minute in the world goes back to his cubicle.”
“Well, didn’t he get fired?” Nicole asks. She has a plump ravioli on the tines of her fork.
“That’s the thing. He wasn’t fired. He just went back to his cubicle and no one said anything.”
She eats some of her ravioli, which is stuffed with pumpkin and endive. “Some of the people at work, maybe we should have a drink with them or something. I mean, not Abramson. But they sound interesting. Except you don’t want to socialize.”
“It’s too weird. I mean, I see them every day.”
Nicole gives me one of her side-to-side doubtful nods.
Actually, I don’t see them every day. I don’t see them at all, in fact. I do work at BarkCo Security, but not in a junior management position like I told Nicole. Every few weeks or so, I break into two homes, sometimes three, all on the same street, which, in police terms, qualifies as “a rash of break-ins.” Then Irene in Sales calls everyone on those streets and about a quarter of them pony up for a security system. The deal is I keep whatever I steal and get sixty bucks a house, which is paid by Irene in cash, and then she gets the commission on all the systems.
A LOT OF PEOPLE think breaking and entering is a night job. That’s one of the myths about our business. Over 78 percent of break-ins happen during daytime. Daytime break-ins have a few advantages. For one, you can walk (or in my case, jog) around the neighbourhood, case the places, and you don’t look suspicious. A lot of B&E jobs are purely crimes of opportunity: the door’s open, you go in, take something and skedaddle. But those are the bottom feeders. Most of the time you need to case not just the place you’re robbing but the neighbours as well. Who’s going to be watching?
It sounds easy, but it’s not. It takes a week to case a street, so I usually have three or four going at any given time. There is a lot of drudgery, just looking at women pushing strollers and bored nannies and guys in their yard who are picking up twigs and staring into space.
But there is a moment when I’m walking out with, say, a $10,000 Bang & Olufson stereo under a beach towel and I feel like that guy David Copperfield, like I’m creating this giant deception and the audience is mesmerized, even though it’s the middle of the day and the sun is shining on me as I walk to my van. Sometimes a guy will give me a look—it’s the look of someone who doesn’t know if he’s seeing something happen or not, and doesn’t know what he should do. If it’s hot, I’ll say something like, “Man, this global warming is killing me.” On a few occasions, I’ve asked people to help me load the van.
I am of average height, medium build, have brownish hair and grey/blue/green eyes with no distinguishing features. Genetically, I am the perfect suspect.
You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen in people’s houses.
The thing is, you can’t steal that much. Those stories about backing up a van and emptying the house while the family is in Disneyland, they’re mostly urban myths. Really, it’s that master illusionist moment, walking out of a stranger’s house at one in the afternoon carrying a duffel bag. No one saw anything.
I MET NICOLE THROUGH WORK. I was in this house that had an apartment in the basement and I went down there and you could tell it was a girl’s apartment because guys’ basement apartments are the most depressing places on Earth, believe me. I usually don’t even go down there. But this one was incredibly tidy and had a list of things to do on the fridge, and I’m looking around, I’m not really even thinking about what I could steal. And then I see this book on the kitchen table and it’s one of those little girl diaries with a lock and flowers on the cover, and for some reason I just take it.
When I get home I pick the lock and start reading. It’s so boring, I can’t believe it—“Went to party with Emma who wore jeans that she thinks make her look like Cameron Diaz and they don’t.” Like that for twenty pages. But closer to the end, there’s a guy, B—just his initial. And B breaks her heart. And all the stuff about B and how she’s feeling, it’s brutal. The next day I find myself jogging past her place, which is something I never do—hang around a place I’ve just broken into. I jog there for more than a week, three, four times a day, and finally I see her. Dark hair, conventionally pretty, and she’s carrying an armful of library books like a grade five student would, cradled in both arms in front of her. We’ve been living together for almost a year now.
“CAHILL, he’s got this thing where he kind of shuffles when he’s standing up and telling a story. It’s like a weird little mating dance thing. And his stories always involve people no one knows, so we have to keep asking him, ‘Is it Brad who can open beer bottles with his teeth or is that Noogie?’”
Nicole is half-listening, half-reading the morning paper.
“Listen, I gotta run,” I say, and move around the table and kiss the top of her head, and she holds up one hand to be clasped without looking up.
I WAS IN THE ANNEX, south of Bloor. There are certain streets, you spend a little time on them, and you know that after eleven years of living side by side, the neighbours don’t know each other’s names. Which is ideal. Streets where there is this right blend of yuppies and old Portuguese couples, students and white trash. They don’t hate each other or anything, but there’s no real community either. And on those streets, you could back up the van and clean out a house at 3 PM with everyone sitting on their porches, and all they’d be thinking is, “I guess what’s-his-name is moving.”
I had picked out a nice Victorian, couple in their early forties, enough time to buy things worth stealing. You know how at parties you browse through people’s bookshelves and their CD collection and you run into Abba’s Greatest Hits, and you kind of hold it against them? Well, my job is like a party in that sense, except you’re going through their closets and desks and dressers as well. There is the usual stuff—bondage gear that was given as an adventurous birthday present and hasn’t been used, unsigned pre-nuptual agreements—all the things that make life modern. I once found a Burmese python in a panty drawer. Man, that wakes you up.
The Victorian was nice. They had nice art, but not worth stealing. If it’s not by Picasso, basically there’s no real aftermarket. But they had two new laptops for me. So I go down to the basement and there’s a door and I pick the lock and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. There are maybe thirty laptops in there, neatly piled on steel shelves. Also microwaves, flat screen TVs, a hundred or so iPods, cell phones, espresso makers. And they’re all still in their packaging. This guy is a thief. I’m robbing a thief. I’m telling you, it kind of spooked me.
The guy, he’s maybe forty-two, good-looking, dressed in a blue cashmere overcoat. His wife is one of those thin blondes with her hair tied back who looks like she went to a private school. I figured he was a lawyer maybe, but the guy isn’t off to spend his day at a law firm—he’s out getting more appliances and TVs.
I got out of there fast. I didn’t take anything, and it wasn’t just professional courtesy.
What got to me afterwards, as I was driving around, pretty much aimlessly, is, first: I was so wrong about the guy. Second: the private school blonde was obviously part of it. I mean she knew he was a thief. She probably had some part in the operation. And what it did was, it filled me with envy and it depressed me. Every day, this guy wakes up, they make coffee in their stolen $1,800 red enamel espresso maker, and they talk about who they’re going to hit, and how they’re going to do it. Hon, did you have a chance to unload those plasma TVs yesterday? They are this team.
Nicole and I, well, the whole basis of our relationship is a lie. And since I don’t have a real job with real co-workers, and stealing isn’t the kind of job where you make a lot of new friends, we don’t have much of a social life. So you can see the problem. We don’t have anyone else, and we don’t really have each other.
Who I have, I suppose, is Irene. Now she’s a piece of work. She wants to renegotiate our deal, saying sixty a house doesn’t make sense. We sort of went out a few years ago, until I realized how nuts she is, and not in that movie way, the go-up-to-the-roof-of-your-apartment-and-dance-in-the-rain kind of nuts. More sociopath nuts. Yet we have this bond. She’s the only one who really appreciates my talent. And I’m the only one who knows why she’s been the best salesperson at BarkCo for more than two years now and employee of the month a record eight times. We had sex in her office about four months ago. It just kind of happened, the way you find you’ve eaten a whole bag of ripple chips. They’re there, they’re open, and then they’re gone. But it means she has something else on me, not that she really needs anything else.
“SO YESTERDAY Bacon addresses the whole office and says he has something to tell us, and half the office isn’t really listening, and you can see he’s working up his nerve and he finally says, ‘I want you all to know that I’m gay.’ This is like Liberace announcing he’s gay. Bacon’s one of those guys who, like, the whole world knew was gay before he did. And this public announcement is a kind of 1985 moment anyway. But one of the secretaries goes over and hugs him and two people clap and he probably had imagined in his head it was going to be like the last scene in An Officer and a Gentleman when Richard Gere picks up Debra Winger and everyone in the factory applauds.”
“If I’m never going to meet these people, then maybe I don’t need to hear all this stuff about them.” Nicole says this into her plate, then looks up with a defiant gleam. I can see where this is heading. Lately, at dinner, I’m making almost all of the conversation, and it’s like I’m on a blind date every night and not doing too hot. Really, what chance do we have?
I USUALLY PICK UP THE MAIL when I’m in a house and memorize the names. That way if someone does surprise me, I can say, “Didn’t Jeff tell you I was going to be here? I thought…”
I sometimes take their car, if it’s the right kind and there’s a key. You’d think there would be money in cars, but again, the truth is disappointing. Most of the cars are going out of the country and the guys you have to deal with are pretty creepy. I brought in a brand new Suburu Tribeca, which lists at forty-five-plus, and they gave me $1,500. Like it or lump it. With cars, the competition is stiff. One night there was an actual line-up of guys dumping Porches that were headed for Dubai. So it’s not always worth it.
Because I jog through the areas I’m going to hit, and even ones I’m not going to hit for months, I’m in very good shape. I belong to a health club because I need a place to go and shower after I jog and Nicole is sometimes at home. I go to this place near the lakeshore and in the morning there are about a hundred women working out and hardly any guys.
I drive down there and I can’t get this guy out of my head, the thief. Where did he meet the private school blonde? I mean, some guys they just find the perfect partner and that’s that. And you see them in restaurants or on the street, and you can tell. The other thing is, he’s doing pretty well. The house would be minimum 750. Very cool furniture. In my line of work, you don’t have a lot of people to compare yourself to. It’s not like being an actor and you see that someone’s movie tanked and that makes you a better actor all of a sudden. But now I have this guy. And suddenly my life looks a bit worn. Nicole and I hanging by a thread, our apartment, which is nice, but I don’t make the kind of money where you have 400k for a down payment. And you don’t want to give it too much thought, but of course jail is a daily possibility.
There are women on the cardio machines, climbing, running, rowing. Most of them are around forty, give or take. They’re in pretty good shape, but you can see signs, the upper arms starting to go, a little cellulite (more if you got a better look). I look at their flesh, stretched, toned, buckled, pampered, shaven, moisturized. I have this game where I imagine my life with each of them, going through how it would be; she’s kind of ordinary looking but understanding or whatever. Their spandex is damp with perspiration, stained at all the openings, the places you want to be. They’re in shape for the same reason I am; we’re nervous about what’s coming next.
I HAVE LUNCH WITH IRENE, against my better judgment. She’s already ordered a bottle of red wine and she says, “You know we’re a pretty good team, you and me.”
This is sadly true. At the same time, she’s angling to drop the sixty bucks to fifty.
Lunch ends with sex in her office and a compromise of fifty-five.
“YOU WON’T BELIEVE about Abramson. Get this, after his I’m-going-to-burnthe-Year-End-Report-on-a-point-of-principle thing, it turns out he’s been embezzling from the company for the last six years. Over eight hundred grand. They found one of those BMW sports cars in his garage. The thing is, I kind of liked Abramson. And he’s sitting in his cubicle with two cops standing over him, and I go over and say, ‘Abe, why did you take all that money?’
And he says to me, with that sad hippo face, ‘I needed something.’”
Nicole is just staring at me, not saying anything.
“Anyway it got me to thinking. I don’t think security is the place for me.”
She’s still staring.
“I’m going to give my notice tomorrow.”
“And do what, do you think?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve lost faith in security, I can tell you that.”
Nicole takes a sip of her white wine. “Are you going to visit him in prison? Abramson?”
I stare meaningfully at the refrigerator. “If I don’t, who will?”
THE NEXT MORNING, I went for a long run, longer than usual. I went up the valley to Moore Park, where I’ve had good luck over the years. It was late autumn and the valley was deep red. I went past a house I remembered, and a woman came out; she had blonde streaked hair and a sleepy pretty face. She bent over to pick up the newspaper and her robe started to come undone and she pulled it closed and cinched the belt. I remember they had a nice reno, maybe too much oak, it was about three years ago. And I was going through the guy’s locked desk drawer and there was a picture of a naked woman who was trying to look sexy but you could tell she was basically shy and the photo was his idea. She had this look. Maybe she really loved him and thought he would leave his wife if she acted out all his fantasies, or maybe just at that moment, sitting there on the hotel bed, naked, she was thinking that the affair was a bad idea and as soon she got dressed she was going to tell him. Maybe he knew she was going to end it and he wanted this picture so he could look at it whenever, and it would remind him of some part of himself that was gone. Who knows. The guy also had a ticket stub from a Bob Dylan concert. It was in the same envelope as the photo. It was kind of like a time capsule and if someone found it a hundred years from now, they’d say: That’s what life was like back then.
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