Sunday 10 March 2013

Rummel's advice column will return next week. In the meantime I'll tell you the story of a Toronto thief who didn't get caught but ended up paying for her crime anyway. -- No, I'll let HER tell the story:
I thought it would be harder to find a place to live after coming out of the slammer. But the old woman rented the place to me, no questions asked. It’s a basement flat in a good neighbourhood, a room furnished old-people style, with a private bath and a fridge and microwave in the common laundry area, but that’s okay. The problem is the door. The non-existing door.  The flat is open concept. The landlady can pad downstairs any time, pretending to do the laundry, and check up on me. I’ll have to do something to protect my privacy, but what? On the other hand, there is no way she can secure her place either. Everything is open concept, and she has a lot of fancy stuff. I’ve been through the whole house, including the bedrooms on the second floor and the third-floor studio, or whatever it is, a strange empty space with a futon on the floor and cut-outs of astrological signs dangling from the slanted walls. She is a bit odd, I guess. Her name is Beverly Hurst. She is seventy-eight years old and looking her age. There are liver spots on the backs of her hands. Her face is sagging badly, especially around the eyes and the jaw. Her lipstick (she always wears lipstick) bleeds into the lines radiating off her mouth. She is old, but she still has all her marbles. That’s why I can’t believe how careless she was, renting the place to me without running a background check, without asking for references, just on the strength of my handing over first and last and saying: I’m a student.

“That’s nice,” she said. “What are you studying, Tracy?”
           “English Literature,” I said. I thought she might like that.
She did.
           “Oh, my favourite subject,” she said.
And that was that. I signed the lease and moved my bags into her basement. I waited until I had her schedule figured out. She goes to the hairdresser every second Friday afternoon. Tuesday and Thursday evenings she gets together with three old biddies to play bridge. She does grocery shopping and other errands in the morning. I usually have the house to myself between 10 and 12 am. She doesn’t lock anything. She leaves money lying around. A few days ago, I spotted three twenties and change, on the kitchen counter. I took one of the twenties. I figured I could get away with that much. Next morning, she came downstairs. I thought she was going to question me, but she just wanted help with her cell phone, how to set the alarm. I showed her and noticed the brown spots on the backs of her hands had faded. Is there a product on the market to bleach liver spots?

The next time she was out playing bridge, I had another look at her bedroom.  Her jewellery was all over the place, but I took only a pair of small gold earrings she left beside the TV. They fetched a reasonable price at the pawnbroker’s. It was a good week for me. I went to the Reference Library and made off with a laptop.  It was a bit risky.  Lots of people milling around, but I got away with it. I’m good at that: becoming invisible, blending in with the crowd, fading away.  Julian usually buys the electronic stuff from me.

Julian has a chaotic shop on Queen Street. There is a piece of cardboard taped to the door that says: Electronic equipment bought, sold, repaired. The rest you have to read between the lines.  Inside are shelves and shelves of electronic equipment, whole or in parts, a tangled mess illuminated by a single 60 watt bulb. Julian doesn’t need much light for his business. He doesn’t even need the computers, but he loves fooling around with them, hacking into bank accounts and private emails, that sort of thing. Plus, the computers form a kind of protective rampart behind which he conducts his other business. Julian’s face is camouflaged with a giant beard and wild hair. From time to time he mows his face for no discernible reason and emerges pale-skinned and blue eyed, but most of the time his face is a shaggy carpet. In spite of his sedentary job, Julian is a hunk. And he has a great coiling dragon tattoo in the small of his back, where his T-shirt fails to meet his pants. In fact, I have a crush on Julian, but I’m just a stray cat to him.

So after I sold him the laptop, I was flush. For two days I didn’t go upstairs except once, and then I only took one of Bev’s bras, as a joke, because it was such an antediluvian contraption, white, with clasps in front like a nursing bra, padded cups shaped like cones, wide straps. I put it on and took a couple of pics of myself in Bev costume, to post on Facebook for Halloween. Or not. You never know who’s looking at your wall. But it would have been a nice revenge. She pissed me off the other day when she said: “Tracy, don’t put KFC boxes into the blue bin. They should go into the regular garbage, dear.”

She raised her voice when she said it. She was angry because she had told me once before, but you know what? She should thank me for raising her pulse rate. She looked good. The anger lifted her face and improved the colour of her cheeks. Well, maybe there’s more to her improved looks than a raised pulse rate. Maybe she’s latched on to Botox and fillers. She can afford the treatments.  Anyway, I got my revenge:  I went through the drawers in her bedroom and found a list with passwords and PIN numbers. Now I just have to find the matching cards, but that’s one area in which Old Bev is careful. She doesn’t leave her credit cards lying around.

Every time she goes out, I nip upstairs and look around, but no cards. She has converted one of the bedrooms into an “office”. I don’t know what she needs an office for. To keep the bridge scores? I turn on her ancient computer, but I get sidetracked by a brooch that’s lying on the desk. It’s antique, and I take it against my better judgment. I don’t get much for it at the pawnbroker’s, and it’s high risk, easily identified. For a few days I walk in fear, but Bev says nothing. Maybe her brain is deteriorating while her appearance is improving. I notice the creases around her mouth are smoothing out. She is definitely getting filler injected there.

Bazinga! One of the numbers on the list is the combination for her wall safe. It contains mostly papers: her birth certificate, her will (Bev’s money goes to the Humane Society), the deed for the house, a bundle of letters, and in a box, half a dozen Krugerrands – six ounces of gold! That was easy. I wish I could hang on to them because the price of gold is rising. But I like the feel of cash. It’s untraceable. Julian takes the coins off my hands. I get home with a nice stash, but I can’t enjoy it as much as I normally would because I’m feeling under the weather. Sore, creaky. I think I’m coming down with something. I look dreadful. Gray and beagle-eyed.

Three days later. Still no improvement. On the contrary, I feel a hundred years old. Bev comes skipping down the stairs. “Can I do anything for you, Tracy?” she chirps.  I want to say: Go away, but all I can muster is a groan. She leaves me a bottle of multi-vitamins and bounds back upstairs. I swear she’s enjoying herself. She likes seeing me on my back. It makes her feel better by contrast.

When I hear her drive off to do the shopping, I drag myself upstairs and am rewarded for the effort: Bev has left her computer on.  A website is up, a Wicca site. Who would have thought Bev was interested in witchcraft? I decide to check her personal files. Some of the file names look intriguing, but I don’t get around to opening them because I see that Bev has left her Visa card beside the computer. She must have ordered something from the Wicca site. What, I wonder? Anyway: this is my lucky day. It’s a platinum card. But I have to force myself to take it, I don’t know why. It must be the flu. I pocket the card, get my coat on, trudge to the nearest ATM and start punching in the PIN numbers I have for Bev. The second one works. I take out an inconspicuous sum: 130.35. And I have to talk myself into pocketing that much. It’s not just caution. Something is holding me back. Bad conscience? Naw, couldn’t be. A distaste for stealing? I must be really sick.

I schlep home and put the credit card back where I found it, on the desk beside the computer. I briefly consider looking into Bev’s files, but I’m too tired.  I’m bushwhacked.

The next day, I still feel lousy. I decide to go to the walk-in clinic for a check-up. I reach for my wallet. It’s not where I left it. I look everywhere, but I can’t find it. I mean it’s not exactly small, it’s the size of a clutch purse, but it’s gone. This is too much. I collapse on the sofa. I’ll have to deal with this later.


  1. Just got an email: Is Bev a vampire? Um. Well, you can write your own ending to the story. E

  2. Another email question: when will we know what happened to Tracy? Look for the conclusion of the story on Wednesday or Thursday. E

  3. Promising. Oscar Wilde visits Toronto: a new take on The Picture of Dorian Gray?

    Anon. 2

    1. Something like that. Or Rummel's subconscious wish to find the Fountain of Youth.