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Authors: John Lekich

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The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls (2 page)

BOOK: The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls
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It's not that I'm complaining or anything. As a rule, I always try to be grateful for at least one thing every day. For instance, today I'm very grateful that it's summer; it makes my current domestic situation a lot easier and automatically eliminates the whole “Why aren't you in school?” question. I tend to stay very active during the warm weather, which tends to keep me from worrying too much. Let me explain.

For most people, summer is a time of fun and relaxation. They go to neighborhood barbecues, catch an air-conditioned movie or take a vacation to the south of France. But, apart from Christmas, summer is the busiest season of the year for a burglar. In summer, homeowners and apartment dwellers get distracted by the heat. They leave their doors and windows open in order to get a nice cross-breeze going. Or better yet, they leave a ground floor window open while they make a trip to the store to get lemonade or bug spray. While I can pick a wide variety of basic locks, an open window on the ground floor is a gift that I can never resist.

Of course, the beauty of a summer burglary is that most of your potential problems are likely to be outdoors, frolicking in the backyard. I am often envious of such carefree behavior. During the summer, I'm too busy going through open windows to enjoy a backyard barbecue even if I were invited to one. Which I never am. Sometimes the wind shifts and I can smell the drifting smoke from the burning coals in some nearby barbecuer's yard all the way up in my tree house. Man, does that ever make me hungry.

I can hear everyone laughing and having a good time, the way they do at barbecues. It makes me want to drop by unannounced and say, “Hi, there. I'm you're new neighbor from the oak tree just down the street. How about setting out another paper plate?” There are even times when I entertain thoughts of liberating a steak from right off the grill. Or maybe even waiting until dark to liberate the entire barbecue set.

Of course, barbecued steak is a little out of my league these days. Most times I have to content myself with whatever leftovers I can find in a stranger's fridge. I have a couple of cans of chili stored in Evelyn's tree house. But if there's anything that brings on that pesky lonely feeling, it's eating your second-to-last serving of cold chili out of a can.

No matter how hard I try, I can't help getting hungry on a regular basis. That's how I came up with the idea of the Henry Holloway Emergency Fund. The charity that keeps on giving—to me.

In fact, if it weren't for the generosity of my benefactors, I'd probably starve. I should point out that I prefer to think of the people I steal from as my benefactors and patrons. Each and every one of them are making unaware—and totally unselfish—contributions to my emergency fund. I often think that it's too bad I can't leave them an official receipt for tax purposes. I guess they'll just have to settle for my unofficial gratitude.

Some of the cash portion of the Henry Holloway Emergency Fund goes toward the continuing demands of personal hygiene. Thanks to recent events, I'm facing various challenges in the cleanliness department. There are many times when I have to be especially resourceful where my personal grooming is concerned. If I run out of coins for the neighborhood laundromat, I can sometimes grab a fresh T-shirt off the outdoor clothesline from a nearby backyard. I always try to return the garment folded and freshly laundered. But I have to make sure nobody's watching. It would be genuinely humiliating to get caught returning something I stole in the first place.

Of course, some of my basic daily needs are quite easily addressed. Thankfully, there are a few public washrooms within walking distance. It's especially fortunate that there's a condominium complex less than a block away from Evelyn's. The complex has an outdoor pool with an attached bathroom and shower. The shower facilities are locked up at night. But there are no security guards or cameras. So it's usually very easy to hop the low fence, pick the simple lock and clean myself up.

The problem? The condo dwellers are starting to have these summer pool parties that can run until after midnight. It's not a good idea for me to be out on the streets after dark, since that can attract the attention of law enforcement. So lately I have been a little negligent in the soap-and-water department.

You might think this is a tough way to get by. But believe it or not, there are many things I like about living in a tree. Most of the time, if I'm not feeling too hungry, I'll just lie back on my stolen sleeping bag and chill. I like the fact that you get a much better look at the sky from a tree house. Probably because you're a lot closer to it.

I enjoy looking up at the roof of my current residence and watching the little slivers of blue that peek through the cracks in the planks. I guess some people would complain about having a few gaps in their roof. But I always try to keep in mind that I don't pay rent. Which is very reasonable when you consider that I also have the after-hours use of a regulation pool.

I get my accommodating side from my mother. I never knew my dad, who took off before I was born and could have been quite impetuous for all I know. About the only solid information I have on him is from my mother, who said, “He played the saxophone.” When I asked if I should know anything else, she added, “He played the saxophone quite badly.”

Thanks to the care and attention of my mother's brother, Andy, I have never been all that curious about my dad. I don't know how my dad would feel about my current lifestyle. But I can definitely tell you that my mother wouldn't be too pleased. When I think about how disappointed she would be, I really miss the days when I didn't have to climb a tree to enter my front door.

The place I am currently calling home is one of those tree houses that's a miniature version of the grown-up house on the same property. There's a peaked roof and glass windows with curtains. But I think I like the view best of all. It makes everything look far away and beautiful. Like nothing bad can ever touch me.

Sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of Mrs. Evelyn Pastorelli in her kitchen window, shuffling along with her aluminum walker, I feel guilty. She's getting a bit forgetful, and I can tell it's starting to worry her.

I must confess that, once in a while, I check on Evelyn using a pair of very expensive binoculars that I liberated back in the days when I was concentrating on procuring valuable merchandise. Mostly, this is just to make sure she hasn't fallen and injured herself. I try my best not to invade her privacy. But sometimes I can't help seeing things that make me feel a little guilty.

Yesterday I watched as Evelyn opened her fridge and stuck her head inside for a long time. I could tell that she was trying to find the grapefruit that was there before I decided to eat it. And when she realized it was gone, there was this scared expression on her face. Like she was thinking, Maybe my daughter is right and I should move to one of those retirement homes where I will never have to keep track of grapefruit again.

I try to make it up to Evelyn by doing little chores around the house when she's out running errands. For instance, I found an old oilcan in the basement and fixed one of her squeaky kitchen cupboards. After she got back, I watched her open the cupboard door and look a little sad. I mean, it was almost as if she wanted the old, familiar squeak to still be there. I guess you can never tell what a person will miss when they get to feeling lonely.

Evelyn has a piano in her house, and once in a while she'll play something with the windows open. She is partial to classical music, which I find very peaceful on a still summer evening. However, I wouldn't mind hearing a little jazz. Mostly because that's the kind of music my mother used to play.

When my mother was alive, she played piano in one of Vancouver's less respectable cocktail lounges. This meant that I spent a lot of evenings with Uncle Andy. My mother was always saying, “I love your uncle. But he has some bad habits.” Looking back, I guess her biggest fear was that Uncle Andy would teach me to steal. Sometimes she just couldn't help bringing up the subject out of nowhere. She would come home, stooped over from wearing her heavy piano-playing dress with all the silver spangles, and automatically go into this long speech about how theft was the lowest form of human behavior.

I can never remember my mother actually finishing her speech about theft. Most of the time, she would get a decent start before throwing her arms around me and starting to cry. I would stand there for a while, feeling the spangles of her dress pressing against me and smelling the smoke from a thousand cigarettes. She would hug me tighter and say something like, “I'm sorry, Henry. It's been a bad night for tips.” Then she would say, “Just promise me you'll never steal anything.” And, naturally, I promised.

Sometimes I lie awake and think about how many times I have broken that promise to my mother. How, you may ask, does a fifteen-year-old end up stealing things if he feels so guilty about it? Well, I'd have to say it all started because of a hot-fudge sundae.

I was seven years old when I entered my first private residence without permission. Up until that day, I was always very law-abiding. Back then, I had no idea how unfair life could be. For example, it never occurred to me that my mother could get cancer from all the secondhand smoke in the clubs she played. But she did, even though she never took a puff from a cigarette in her entire life. That's what she kept trying to explain to the doctors over and over. “You don't understand,” she would say. “I don't even smoke.”

It was a bad time all around. So one afternoon my Uncle Andy decided to take me out for a special treat. My mom had one of her medical appointments at the clinic and I think he just wanted to cheer me up a little. I'm sure what happened next wasn't planned or even expected. But like Uncle Andy always says, “When opportunity knocks, it's always a good idea to invite it in for a cup of coffee.”

My Uncle Andy has always been a little different. For one thing, he never failed to carry a bunch of dog treats in his pocket. Even though he has never owned a dog in his life. When I asked him why, he said, “It's just a little professional tip I picked up from the postman.”

I asked if he was a postman. I was always trying to figure out what my one and only uncle did for a living. He seemed to have a steady supply of ice-cream money and no job to go with it, which I found very mysterious.

“No, I'm not a postman,” he replied. “Although I do encounter the occasional uncooperative pet in my line of work.” Then he looked at me and added, “I am very proud to say that I have never been bitten by a dog in my entire career. Chased, certainly. But never bitten.”

For a while, I thought my Uncle Andy might be in real estate. He always took an extra special interest in other people's houses, especially if there was an accumulation of newspapers on the porch. On the way to getting our ice cream that day, I remember telling Uncle Andy that a fireman had come to our second-grade class to talk about his job. “I think I might want to be a fireman someday,” I said.

We were walking along a back lane, next to a nice old house, when Uncle Andy said, “See the ladder in that yard, Henry? How would you like to practice being a fireman right now?”

I looked around, like maybe there was some house on fire that I didn't know about. Uncle Andy pointed to a partially opened window on the second floor. “Do you think you could squeeze into that little window if I held the ladder for you?” he asked.

“No problem, Uncle Andy,” I replied. Like I said, I was only seven and very eager to test my ladder-climbing skills.

“Okay,” said Uncle Andy, quickly leaning the ladder under a window. “I'm going to go around front and ring the doorbell. If nobody's home, I will be back to steady the ladder.” Then he looked at me very sternly and added, “Stay right here and don't try climbing the ladder by yourself.”

At the time, I didn't realize that by squirming through the window and unlocking the door for my uncle, I was about to commit what the police call breaking and entering (or “B and E” for short). A few years later, Uncle Andy would try to put things into perspective for me. “Since we never actually broke anything, we were only guilty of the entering part,” he said.

I don't even remember what we took that day. But I do recall this unique feeling of guilt mixed up with genuine excitement. Uncle Andy made it clear that my first B and E—or what he liked to call my “first E”—was a one-shot deal and that I wasn't to tell my mother. He explained that he was in the business of liberating items from other people's homes. Uncle Andy made it very clear that he did not want me going into the liberation business. But I guess it didn't work out that way.

Ever since my mother passed away, Uncle Andy has been my official guardian. It was his idea to pretend that his friend Cindy was my aunt. They even had a fake marriage certificate made up. Just in case the government wanted proof that I was enjoying what they like to call “a stable domestic environment.”

Sometimes Uncle Andy has a problem with stability. For example, he is currently in prison for selling a series of instructional
s entitled,
The Happy Handyman's Digital
Encyclopedia of Home Repair
. You may ask, “How is going door to door selling instructional
s breaking the law?”

Well, technically, my uncle did not actually sell the entire Happy Handyman series. In fact, he only sold the first one, which, while accompanied by a lavishly illustrated booklet, merely covered home repair from A to B. This was perfectly fine, if all you cared about was replacing the filter on your air conditioner or repairing a cracked bathtub. But, as it turned out, a lot of people were interested in the rest of the home repair alphabet.

The trouble was that Uncle Andy only had thirty copies of the first
. He had discovered it while breaking into a delivery truck when nobody was watching. Fortunately, my uncle is a rather persuasive salesman. He even managed to sell the
to a few people who didn't own computers or tvs. Unfortunately even they got quite annoyed. As the judge put it, “When an individual writes a check for a complete series of
s, they have a legitimate expectation of receiving the remaining discs.”

BOOK: The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls
7.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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