I didn't want to steal. None of my gang did. There was only one- Rebrandt- who enjoyed it. And he is the worst thiever here. Believe me, our training at the Warehouse was not easy. That's why we are amazing at thievin'. I glance out at the people before me- sniveling, frightened boys desperate enough to be adopted into a gang rather than face the confines of a Boy's Home. Yes, when our leader, Jack Paulie, heard of our loneliness and came to recruit us, we were frightened. The prospect of working at a Warehouse with a bunch of strange orphan boys was not ideal for any of us. More than that, the prospect of stealing anything scared the crap out of us. But what choice did we have? Rot in some Boy's Home, or live an actual life?
Looking out at the boys around me, I know I've made the right choice. We're a family here, a real pack. Trained through and through to steal and look out for one another. Trained not to get caught- getting caught means jail and then the Boy's Home.
I could not have a better father figure than Jack Paulie.
"Gapper, got any spoils?
I glance over at a small, pale boy to my right. Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. Didn't get enough to eat today I see. Or rather, steal enough.
"Thomas, you gotta steal, boy. Really go for that food. You're lucky I took more than necessary today. Otherwise you ain't never going to get nothin'. You steal more, you hear?"
Thomas nods sheepishly as I hand him a morsel of stale bread.
"I don't like to steal, Gapper. I really don't."
"I know kid. Shoot, I know. All of us feel that way. But this life ain't about wantin'. It's about survivin'. " My heart feels heavy as I tell him this. I remember when Jack Paulie first brought me here. I was about as young as Thomas. Too scared and sheepish to tell Jack Paulie my name, he called me Gapper for the little gap between my two front teeth. It stuck, and I've been called that ever since.
In about twenty minutes, everyone in my gang spread around the Warehouse, getting ready to rest up for the morning. I huddle in an open spot where I can see what's happening around me. That's the first thing I learned as a thiever- notice everything. Jack Paulie calls lights out, and I close my eyes. That night I dream about my mother and father. I haven't dreamed about them in years.
I wake up as always to the sound of chatter around me. Boys climb silently over sleeping ones, not caring whether their obstacles wake or not. Within two minutes, I'm dressed and ready to head out to work.
"Thomas. Kid. Get up." I kick him roughly in the side. His eyes pop open.
"Yeah, Gapper. Enough with the crap. Come on, get up before Jack Paulie sees you still in bed." He sluggishly rises.
"Next time I'm aiming for the face. Got that?"
Without responding, Thomas readies himself.
In about ten minutes, all of our gang is gathered in the main part of the Warehouse. Jack Paulie stands front and center. I watch him pace back and forth, strategizing today's assignments.
Ever since you're recruited to this gang, you have a thieving assignment. Whether it's food, money, games, etc., you're expected to steal it during the day and bring back the spoils at night. Jack Paulie's strategy is always the same daily- the vast majority of boys steal money or food. A piece of cake. But us skilled thievers- me, Jan, Kai, and Alelight- we steal the good stuff. Books, playing cards, and other games are what we try to find daily. It is a rule of Jack Paulie's that entertainment is constantly available in our Warehouse. So I'm always on assignment for books. Always. Which is alright, 'cause I love a good challenge. You wouldn't believe how many people carry a good book in their pocket.
"Thomas... money. Rembrandt... money. Lil' Gong... food. Ranger... food. Jan... playing cards. Gapper... books." Jack Paulie rambles off the assignment list. I smile with confidence. This will be easy.
"Gapper, heading to Glint Lane?" I turn and see Jan follow after me as I exit the Warehouse.
"I'd be stupid not to."
"Good. I'm heading to Plank Avenue. Gotta make sure you're not dealing with people in my territory, ya' know?"
"I know." I tug my tattered cap lower on my head. I dig my hands deep into my long trench coat, annoyed. "I'm not followin' you, Jan. I stick to Glint." I jog off, happy to be rid of such a nuisance.
It's a forty-five-minute walk to Glint. As I head along, I be sure to act friendly to everyone I see. You'd be a fool to act all shady around towns-folk. If you're friendly, you gain their trust. If you gain their trust, you can pull almost anything off.
"Stanley." I tip my cap to the town mailman, who grins back at me.
"Randy. Fine morning, bud. On your way to the candy shop? Best hurry. The place will be hoppin' come noon."
Randy... what a fool Stanley is. Randy is simply an alias. The name I've convinced everyone in this crappy town I am called. All of them have fallen for it. My Randy act is my special thiever technique. Whenever I come to Glint Lane, I become Randy- a silly, young, smiley teen who always has something to laugh about. Everyone loves me. What suckers.
I put on my best Randy smile, showing off my uneven teeth. "Yessir. Have a great day, sir." I tip my cap at him. Stanley grins, then walks away.
Looking every direction (and seeing no one), I stealthily glide up to him and reach for the pocket of his mailman's coat. Tucked away in the rough, navy material is a slight novel. I can see it is called "Tuck Everlasting." My slender hand disappears as it reaches into the folds of Stanley's pocket. Barely breathin', I withdraw my hand. Stanley doesn't give a crap. As I walk away, glancing at him, I realize the only thing he's noticed is an itch in his butt.
The rest of the day commences as normal. I have a tidy collection of three books by noon, and stop at the candy shop to get a sucker with a quarter Jan gave me. As I sit enjoying the treat, the novels nestled safely in the depths of my trench coat, I see someone outside that looks familiar. Too familiar. Almost like... Oh Shoot.
Before I can catch myself, I'm dashing out the door toward that fool figure in the distance. My sucker is left abandoned on the counter of the candy shop. "What a little rat... this is my territory... he knows he ain't gonna get let off this easy... Thomas, you brat." I mutter to myself as I sprint down the sidewalk. The pale, slight figure in the distance grows nearer and nearer.
I prepare to yell. I let fury block all of my senses. Thomas stands at the head of Glint Lane, trailing an elderly gentleman with a leather wallet in the back pocket of his doctor's coat. How dare he... Thomas has stepped foot in my territory! Glint is mine. Mine to take. Mine to rob. Thomas easily knows this. Why he's here, I don't know. But when I'm through whoopin' him, he'll wish he'd never came.
My mouth open, prepared to start screamin', I lunge for Thomas. "Thom-" I stop where I am, just next to him. Instead of shyin' away, he gives me a look of pure determination. He looks up at me with wide, confident eyes. I shake my head no. No. Bad idea. Don't you dare, Thomas. I know what he's thinkin'. And it ain't gonna work out.
Before I can stop him, he pounces on the doctor's pocket. I know the dynamics of stealin' stuff. The doctor's pocket is too shallow to take a blow like that without the old man noticin'. I try to stop Thomas, yankin' at his raggedy coat. But it's too late. Thomas shoves his hand in the coat, withdrawing a weathered leather wallet. I snatch it in my hands, hardly even thinking about what this could mean for me. And then it happens. The doctor spins around. And he sees us. He sees the wallet. In my hands. Anger grows on the doctor's face, and he starts toward me, pushin' Thomas to the ground. He cusses me out- a fine, long string of vocabulary- before turnin' on Thomas. "NO! No. Sir, he didn't do nothin'. I stole the wallet. See?" I lie desperately, hoping to take Thomas's blow. "Is this true?" The doctor cries in a voice that drips with fury. "You aren't lying, kid?" I shake my head. I should be scared. I should be sad. But every emotion in my brain is drowned out with the need to protect Thomas.
I can feel Thomas's eyes on me, like hot coals burnin' in my side. Without turnin' to face him, I pant, "Scram, Thomas." He slowly rises, lookin' me in the side of the face. "I said to scram!" I scream. He knows I been caught. He knows how I've thrown myself under the bus for him. And there's nothin' he can do for me besides runnin' home and enjoyin' his life as a thief. He scuttles off in the direction of the Warehouse, leavin' me on the cement sidewalk with the maddened doctor clutching the collar of my trench coat. As I watch Thomas run away, I see two policemen runnin' toward the doctor and I, ignoring Thomas. I take a relieved breath. Ah, Thomas. You little wretch. Thieve for me, kid. Be the thiever I was destined to be. I'll be back someday- when I get out of the jail and out of a Boy's Home.