For those readers who have been pining for stories of boys and bars, you’re about to get lucky! I am writing again for a small workshop group. Need to produce new material every week. So I’m taking up some of the old causes. Casting the net to see what comes to surface. Hoping to find some tidbits in this lazy brain of mine. This is my first attempt … maybe part of the Katt’s Lives series, if you recall that from years ago.
A guy I used to know made the paper. He’s a thief. He’s going back to prison. He’s going to do some serious time. Years. Nobody will see him for a very long time. I only ever saw him twice and that was over 10 years ago.
We met at the after hours club. The club with no “official” law. I had never laid eyes on the man before nor heard his name mentioned. Maybe because he’d been away in jail. Maybe because he didn’t grow up in my neighborhood and we went to different schools. No matter.
What mattered was that he pulled into the parking lot in his souped up 70s Chevy and I noticed. I didn’t yet know he was a thief, but he was built like one, slight and wiry. You could imagine him slithering into hard to get places, slipping out, blending in, disappearing with ease. He was about my age, a little bit younger, with a great sense of humor. His tongue twisted gracefully around multiple syllables and I was impressed by his grasp of the English language. The boy was slick. I’ll give him that.
He noticed me right away. I liked his direct approach. If he had a game, his game was that he had no game. He walked right up to me, told me I was beautiful and he wanted to be with me for the rest of his life … or at least until morning. I liked his persistence. He stayed right by me, no matter how much I ignored him, no matter how much I protested, no matter what I said to drive him away. “Aww, you pretend you’re all mean and hating on me, sweetheart,” he’d say. “But I know you don’t mean it. Deep down in there somewhere is a heart that’s beating for mine.” And he’d wink and laugh and drop a loonie in the jukebox.
Maybe because he had been in and out of jail, in and out of foster homes, on and off the streets, there was an urgency about him. There was time for setting up a mark in the pool hustle. There was time for casing the joint. But there was no time to fool around with games in matters of the heart. He took one look at me and decided he wanted me to be his woman, and then he never faltered from his mission to make it so.
He had a vivid imagination. Within an hour of meeting him he was designing my dream home, planning the wedding and naming our babies. I suppose it was a testament to his conning abilities and delightful personality that I stayed long into the night, sipping beer, playing pool and embellishing upon these plans. It was all in good fun, and I’d never met anyone like him before. But when the time came to go home, I went my way and he went his.
The next day he called me. He wanted to go on a proper date. Pick me up. Dinner. A movie. Flowers. Candy. Anything I wanted. As lavish or as simple as I desired. He just wanted to be with me, wanted me to be happy. “I don’t know,” I hedged. “Maybe someday, sometime …” I was not playing hard to get. The fluttering in my stomach scared me … plus, I had baggage, unresolved issues with a Mister On Again/ Off Again. Mr OA/OA didn’t like me seeing other people, even when we were Off Again. He could be counted on to cause a scene, to make life difficult. Somebody could get hurt. Somebody could get beat up.
True to form OA/OA got wind of the new boy and showed up at my house worried for my safety. “I know this boy,” he said. “Known him for a long time. He comes from a bad family. He is nothing but a low-down thief. He’s been in and out of jail. You don’t want to get mixed up with the likes of him.”
I sighed. “But you’ve been in and out of jail and I’ve been mixed up with you for years,” I said.
“Yeah, but I ain’t no thief! They’re the lowest of the low! And I don’t want you around him.”
The argument seemed to be “better the criminal I knew than the one I didn’t” and strangely there did seem to be some logic to that.
Later at the club, when the old Chevy pulled in I decided Mr. OA/OA probably knew more about this guy than I did and I should trust his judgment on the matter. “I can’t go out with you,” I said to the boy.
He didn’t want to hear that. He had plans. I told him I had found out about his troubling past. He told me he’d never do another dishonest thing in his life. With me by his side he could turn his life around and make something of himself. He seemed so sincere.
I pulled out my secret weapon and dropped OA/OA’s name, which was usually enough to make even the biggest and strongest of the tough guys turn tail and run. Nobody with any sense wanted to get into a racket with OA/OA over me. But he didn’t care. He knew OA/OA, had partied with him, had hung out with him, knew his capabilities, but it didn’t matter.
“I’ve been through hell and more,” he said. “I’m not afraid of him.” And he meant it, his blue eyes filled with steely determination. He took my hands and looked into my eyes, “But seriously, I just want a chance to show you, just one date is all I’m asking for. And if afterward you decide I’m not for you, I’ll go away and leave you alone forever.”
He wasn’t afraid of nothing or nobody . . . but I was. I was afraid of what OA/OA would do to him. I was afraid of what might happen to me. But most of all I was terrified of the way my heart pounded in my chest when he held my hands. “No,” I said. “No. I think you should go now and leave me alone forever.”
And he did.
His big eyes glossed over with a film of hurt. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed his rejection and he drove off.
I never saw him again.
A few months later I heard he was caught stealing some petty stuff from a business in town. He got sent away for a few months over that. Then he dropped off my radar. “Better the devil I know” became my motto and it was back on again with OA/OA.
Sometimes I wonder what if I’d taken a chance on the wiry little con man. Would he have changed his ways? Or was he already too damaged when we met, is that the only life he could ever know? Sometimes I wonder, and then I see the court clippings and am thankful not to see my name in there as an accessory to the crime.
Listening To: people in the hall
Hair: still short, still dark