It’s always better when there are mistakes to make. Lessons available for those who desperately need them. Desperates like us.
It was an hour into “high tide”, that time of night between sleeping and waking for Average Joes, between “last call” and “get the fuck up”. Two to four A.M. The window of opportunity. We climbed through it regularly, without questioning it, as if pre-destined for such things.
The three of us made our way to a rather rough neighborhood, minutes from the hold. This was a neighborhood which, oddly enough, we would have been apprehensive about entering during the light of day. A poorer neighborhood, with all the signs of a rental/transient population: overgrown lawns, fallen mailboxes, sans-wheels-automobiles at the curbs, broken glass in the street, and packs of stray dogs. But thieves will thieve, and thieves thieve from each other. Where better to find a meta-collection of goods than where the thieves sleep? This was the faulty logic of our pursuit.
It was absolutely miserable-hot outside. We were breathing boiling water, suffocating our bodies as we suffocated our souls. And even at two in the morning, I was sweating behind my knees while wearing shorts.
The other two would be doing the run. I was to keep at the wheel, at the ready, at long-range lookout. Kalm was the front man for this venture. He had the skills and the good eye for potential property, so he would spear-head the run. The other, Breaze, was not as polished as Kalm. Breaze had been out of the action for a couple of years, but was really hyped about his return. He really wanted to jump into things, even though he was out of practice. His almost explosive desire to be involved was infectious. So Kalm accepted his excitement as resolution to put in the required effort.
Best of intentions, really.
Three streets in, I found a perfect wait-spot, somewhere near the end of a quarter-mile block. Beneath a broken street lamp. Killed the engine, they exited, and I turned the radio down to a whisper while I settled in to wait. But I was a tad apprehensive about Breaze's re-virginized run.
“You guys got this? Breaze, you alright with watch-out? It’s no joke.”
I was a bit worried that Breaze didn’t completely understand the nature of what it was we were doing. The problems are never with the law. You can talk your way out of that. It’s with bubba-joe-Nguyen and his Gloc. You can’t reason with him, even if you speak the same language, so you NEED to see him coming from a mile away. Having no guns or intention to hurt anyone, we had to avoid anyone who might.
“I got this shit. My eyes work. Let’s do this shit already.”
Rather cavalier, but Kalm didn’t even acknowledge it as he opened the back door and set out onto the wet pavement, without any illumination from the bulb-less interior light. He never bothered to hurry anyone when he set in to work, he just went. And anyone along had to keep up. That was his way. Breaze was never much for other people’s ways, but he silently respected Kalm’s record, and followed with proper step.
I sat in that sauna for a month if it was fifteen minutes. I had never relented my watch-out position to anyone else before, so this was something a bit new to me. The waiting around with top-forty radio crapping out Counting Crows was pride-ruining and ulcerous to me. But Breaze needed the opportunity to stretch a bit, and that was his right. So I silently sweat out the wait, dragging on my Marlboro, imagining what it would feel like to have air conditioning on my greasy face.
After maybe twenty minutes and three smokes, I noted two figures crossing the street behind me, in my rear-view mirror, approximately fifty yards back. They were moving with haste, and I could see Kalm’s bag of tricks in his silhouette. Breaze was close behind. They crossed, headed my way, back into the shadows against the houses on my side of the street.
“Sweet…” I thought to myself, “now we can get the fuck out of here and get some coffee. Breaze got to turn something, so he should be…” My thought was interrupted by the appearance of two more figures, perhaps fifty feet behind Kalm and Breaze, also heading my direction, but too far back to note any detail.
I went ahead and started the car, trying to give a subtle hint to my co-conspirators to haul some ass, if they weren’t already aware of the potential pursuers.
Again, there is little that worries the common thief beyond the normal pitfalls of Average Joe living: slipping on wet tile, dropping something heavy on your toe, and paper cuts. But the one thing that scared us more than death itself, was the potential to suffer at the hands of some pack of potentially fuckmental vigilantes. Especially in the kind of neighborhood we were in. Khmer Rouge type shit. I always imagined car batteries attached to the tip of my dick in my daymares.
They didn’t heed my engine running, and just strolled right up all lazy like. Kalm got in the back seat, and immediately asked “why is the car running? It's really loud, man.” Breaze took the front seat, and before he could shut the door, we were floored and forward.
I was a bit upset by the whole thing. “DIDN’T YOU SEE THOSE TWO PEOPLE COMING UP BEHIND YOU?!!! I mean, FUCK!!!”
Breaze was pretty nonplussed. “Nah. Did you see anyone Kalm?”
Kalm seemed to understand my displeasure with the whole thing. “No, I didn’t see anyone, but I wasn’t looking either.” Very matter-of-factly: “That’s the look-out’s job.”
I was livid. All the blood in my body rushed to my right foot, to get us the hell out of there.
There was a bit of silence draped around us as we pulled around and through the labyrinth of a neighborhood, pawing our way to an exit. Any exit would do. Screeching around corners, the radio tapped out Utah Saints “Something Good” while I seethed, Kalm probably considered the meaning of life, and Breaze shrugged it all off. The drive home was insufferably quiet.
Mistakes are made in any effort to polish one’s craft. But mistakes in some professions carry a much, much heavier consequence when committed. Such is the line that I was (and still very much am) a little shy to stagger around with any level of careless abandon. Paranoia is a thief’s saving grace. Paranoia in every respect and shape. The more, the safer.
After reaching the hold, without saying much to each other, we set upon organizing, cataloguing, and prepping the garnered goods. Amongst the pile of things we had to rummage through were personal items such as sunglasses, pocket knives, compact discs, lighters and cigarettes. Pretty standard lot for a pull of that size. This particular batch contained a rare find for those times: a pack of Thai Cloves. All the writing on the pack was in Thai, but Kalm knew what they were, and did not communicate that to me or Breaze. He played a bit dumb on what they were.
Perhaps it was his effort to diffuse a potentially friendship-disrupting event, as he could tell how pissed I was at what I felt was reckless carelessness that put us all in the menacing sights of retributive harm (car batteries attached to dicks). I was still fuming over the whole debacle.
So he recommended that we smoke some of the cloves. A pinched Zippo lit a single stick up, which we passed between us for a good twenty minutes (cloves forever-burn like cigars) while we continued to cut and crimp errant wires, documented model numbers and tested functionality of components. Business as usual.
But after that twenty minutes passed, we found ourselves laughing hysterically at the whole thing. We joked that the phantom pursuers were part of a competing crew, that was following us around for sloppy seconds. For the remaining change left in ashtrays. We laughed and laughed, forgetting the previous discomfort that clouded our evening, not but thirty minutes prior.
The next thing I remember is waking up, still on the floor, with a butchered CD player on my chest. Breaze was sitting up, against the wall to my right, still passed out. Kalm was snoring, lightly, in the entryway to the bathroom, tools still in his able hands.
Those cloves are no joke.
We never discussed the grievous error made the night before, ever, in any capacity. But we did discuss the cloves, repeatedly, over the turning years. They seemed to trump the more irritating elements of the evening.
We never smoked Thai Cloves again.
And we never asked Breaze to join us on such expeditions in the future. Eventually we would have to learn that it wasn’t the execution by Breaze, or details such as the brutal effects of Thai Cloves which were the problem. The problem was much broader than that. Broader than our narrow minds could possibly fathom at the time.
Always broader it seemed. Always.