FICTION

In the Long Run

Roy always did pick things up easily so you shouldn’t be surprised at the way he turned out

ROBERT FONTAINE January 15 1948
FICTION

In the Long Run

Roy always did pick things up easily so you shouldn’t be surprised at the way he turned out

ROBERT FONTAINE January 15 1948

In the Long Run

Roy always did pick things up easily so you shouldn’t be surprised at the way he turned out

ROBERT FONTAINE

WHEN I was twelve I belonged to the YMCA. We sang songs, played ping-pong, tossed a basket ball around and had lectures on living the good life.

We did not care too much for the lectures, but since they usually preceded a dinner with chicken and ice cream we always listened to them.

I used to wonder how my cousin Roy could do it. Roy was a collector of anything he saw lying around. He explained that his father was sick, his mother worked for less than nothing and the only way he could survive was to pick up a bit here and there.

Of course I could not agree with his theory, even if at times I admired his cunning and nerve. The point is that I was astonished at the way Roy could listen without blinking to all the lectures and then go right ahead and operate.

We would come from the lecture and Roy would take two five-cent chocolate bars from the supervisor’s desk. Then he would put twenty-five cents in the cashbox and remove change for a dollar.

“I don’t count very good,” Roy explained whenever I caught him.

fie was a good-looking,

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husky boy with dark hair, laughing eyes and strong white teeth. He looked young and innocent and no one suspected that when a detective opened his locker in the YMCA one night he would find seven track suits, nine pair of basketball kneepads, four pair of sneakers and a dozen other items. It was marvellous how Roy could get all the stuff in his locker, let alone the manner in which he acquired it.

The truth, which Roy told me once, was that he went around to all the lockers, row after row, and twisted the combinations this way and that. way. Often some of the lockers opened. Roy would take one or two garments and lock up again. All the things were too big for him and he never sold them. ! do not know why he picked them up. But he did.

ANYWAY, the detective took' him J\_ up to the supervisor’s office and he asked me to come along, too. I believe they suspected I was an accomplice, but l was as blameless as a baby.

We sat down on hard chairs and watched the gold desk clock ticking and listened to our hearts beating. I was very nervous, this being the first time 1 was ever involved in a larceny. Mr. Wakes, the boys’ supervisor, was a gentle, pale-eyed man with a sharp nose and little hair. He paced around us for a time in silence. Then he said to me: “What do you know about this?” “Nothing, sir.”

“Did you know your cousin was taking this . . . these . . . taking . . .” “No, sir.”

“Hmmm.” He turned to Roy who smiled at him so pleasantly that it was apparently difficult to find the words.

“Roy,” he began, “you are one of the most active boys in this Y. You are a fine athlete. You have a good personality. When there is work to be

done you do much more than your share. Tell me, why do you steal?”

“I don’t steal,” Roy said. At this, the detective sat up and blinked.

“How’s that?” he asked sharply.

“You heard me,” Roy said. “And we don’t smoke cigars in the boys’ department. Wc don’t like to encourage them. Isn’t that right, Mr. Wakes?”

Mr. Wakes smiled for a moment, rather pleased. “Yes, yes, Roy. Exactly.” He turned to the detective. “You understand?”

The detective squashed out his cigar in the ash tray by the gold clock.

“Also we remove our hats immediately upon entering the department,” Roy said. The detective looked daggers at Mr. Wakes, but he took off his derby.

“Listen,” the detective said, “this kid is a thief. What are we standing here for, talking?”

“He said he didn’t steal anything,” Mr. Wakes said vaguely. “We . . . uh . . . we . . . can’t judge the boy without giving him a hearing.”

“Listen,” the detective said to Roy “Confess. Go straight. You’ll get off with a suspended sentence in reform school.”

“I have nothing • to confess,” Roy said.

The detective raised his hand as if to wallop Roy but Mr. Wakes stopped him, gently. “Let us be . . . uh . . . uh . . . gentlemen about this.”

“Look,” the detective said, “I opened his locker. I saw the stuff lying there. I got a list of the stolen property. The stolen property was in his locker. It’s an open-and-shut case.”

“Nobody has preferred any charges yet,” Roy said.

“What does that mean?” I asked him in a whisper.

“No whispering!” the detective shouted.

“In the boys’ department we are polite to each other. We do not shout nor use bad English. 'We respect each other,” Roy said.

THE detective turned to Mr. Wakes who was swallowing a little nervously. “Listen, brother. You asked for a detective. You said property was disappearing. Now we have done our duty and discovered the criminal. Let us go down and prefer charges.”

“Uh . . .” Mr. Wakes said weakly, “we must be sure.”

“Holy Moses! . . . the stuff was all there in the kid’s locker,” the detective shouted.

“In the boys’ department we do not use profanity,” Roy said. Mr. Wakes smiled, glad to be back in his element a moment. “Yes,” he agreed, “we discourage even circumlocutions.” “Look,” said the detective, very exasperated, “I am not here for a lecture. I am here to make a pinch. The stuff was found in the kid’s locker . . .”

Mr. Wakes sighed and waved his hand ineffectually.

“It’s not my locker,” Roy said calmly. The detective blinked. Mr. Wakes opened his eyes wide. 1 nearly fainted.

“Whose locker is it then, little man?” the detective said sharply.

“His,” Roy replied, pointing to me. “But I don’t use it,” I said. “I hardly ever use it.”

“Yes, come to think of it, the boys have been doubling up on the lockers,” Mr. Wakes said. “This other young man is the soul of honor so I clear him instinctively. On the other hand, it is not Roy’s locker. So the evidence, circumstantial as it is, cannot be used against Roy.”

“Then who put the stuff in the locker?” the detective asked, running his hand over his hot face.

“I do not know,” Roy said “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” the detective declared.

“In the boys’ department,” Roy observed, “we are kind to animals.”

THE detective put on his hat, lit a cigar and went out, slamming the door. There was a long silence while Mr. Wakes looked out the window. In time he turned around and looked at us gently and a little wearily.

“Uh, boys . . . boys. I appoint you two boys to see that the stealing of . . . uh . . . garments, etc., is stopped. I have faith in you and I know you will

apprehend the culprit and punish him ! in a proper fashion. Uh ... I might add that crime does not pay. The man who begins in a small way ends up stealing large sums and is soon miserable.”

“My uncle Joe stole ten thousand dollars from a bank and they haven’t caught him yet,” Roy said. “That was ten years ago. Every month or so we get a postcard from him in the Fiji Islands.”

Mr. Wakes cleared his throat. “In the long run. In the long run, crime does not pay. The proof is that people at heart are honest. People are . . . uh . . . really good . . .”

“I know' some awful stinkers,” Roy said.

“Me, too,” I agreed. Mr. Wakes sighed. “Yes, yes. But there is a trend toward goodness. In the long run we will all be good. Those of us who are bad must be considered ill. We must treat them for a disease of evil . . . and then one glorious day we shall all be well . . . and . . . uh, happy. In the long run. That is all, gentlemen.”

We walked out slowly and down the stairs and toward the Square. Roy was very solemn. After a while he spoke thoughtfully.

“You know, I feel bad for the first time in my life. Not because I stole the gym suits. They’re no good anyway. I just didn’-t like all those senior guys always shoving me around. 1 showed them it ain’t enough to be big. You have to be smart, too. But something else. I mean 1 did something wrong.”

“What?” I asked.

“I talked about this old guy Wakes like he was crazy. But what happens?

He knows 1 am poor so when 1 am not looking he puts a ten-dollar bill in my pocket. It makes me feel worse than stealing.”

“I know,” 1 said, as Roy reached in and took a ten-dollar bill from one pocket.

“I think I know what I’ll do,” he said reaching into the other pocket, removing from it a shiny gold object. “I’ll go back when he isn’t looking and put back his clock.”

In the long run, however, Roy came out all right. He became one of the city’s finest detectives, although I have no idea how. if