The Caretaker – Part One

Maybe, he mused once, if it hadn’t been for marriage, he’d have ended up in prison.  Once he met Beatrice, however, he gave up his old ways.  Surprisingly, changing directions to walk a straight and narrow path had proved easy.

Thanks to Beatrice, he’d abandoned all criminal pursuits.  The time saved by eschewing illegal activity proved very productive.  Along with married life came successful efforts to renovate his house and landscape his yard.  He liked to think that he’d turned them into works of art.

Additionally, he’d become engrossed in ceramics.  He’d added another room to the downstairs where he had his potter’s wheel, work tables, glaze cans, and electric kiln.  Just outside, he’d built a fireproof shed with an exhaust hood where he did his gas firings.  He preferred the gas firings over the electric, enjoyed the less predictable colors, especially when he was doing salt firing.

Beatrice had often joked that between possible gas leaks and the chlorine gas from the vaporized salt, they could both be dead before they knew.  Not to mention the constant possibility of fire or explosions.

He’d also taken up acoustic double bass and would spend hours playing along to jazz standards.  His goal, he said, was to be able to stand in the next room and have Beatrice be unable to distinguish his playing from Ray Brown’s records.  When that day finally came, the two of them cracked open a bottle of wine and drank to his amazing accomplishment.

But then Beatrice had died.  Not surprisingly to him at all, it was easy to slip back into his old ways.  Like alcoholism or heroin, his need to break the law was an addiction that he knew lay always close to the surface, always threatening to break out if he would just let it do so.

And it did.

This had all begun one day when he was very young, back in elementary school.  Accompanying his parents on a shopping expedition, he’d asked for a small bag of li hing mui.

“Not today, Chris,” his father had said.

When his father’s attention was occupied elsewhere, he’d asked his mother for it.

“Chris, did you hear what your father said?  I did.  Not today, okay.”

Well, they might believe it would not be today, but when Chris came home that afternoon, he ran up to his bedroom, closed the door, and proceeded to nearly eat himself sick on li hing mui.  He was smart about it, too.  He made sure that the seeds went into the empty bag, the empty bag in his PanAm school bag the next morning, and the evidence disposed of at school, so there would be no way his parents could discover it.

It had all started with li hing mui.  Now every time he would go to the store with his parents, he would come home with something.  Besides crack seed, candy, pencils, pens, and erasers, joined the mix.  He’d even take things he didn’t need, like protractors and compasses, boxes of paper clips and rubber bands.

As he grew into his teens, he branched out to books, most of which he never read, and magazines, which he usually did, like Playboy.  He enjoyed the articles, especially the fiction.

One story by Ray Bradbury had made a huge impression.  It was about an expedition back in time.  Despite being warned to follow a specific path, one man strays.  When the expedition returns to the present day, the world has changed, this the result of that man stepping on a butterfly.

How strange, he thought, that such a simple misstep could have such consequential repercussions.

Moving into high school, he branched out even further.  He loved clothes but knew his parents would pretty easily spot a burgeoning wardrobe.  What he stole, then, he stored at school in his locker.  An item would be worn a few times and thrown away.  Wasteful, sure, but out there an infinite supply of new clothes awaited.  If he liked a particular shirt or pair of pants, he’d just steal it again, then throw it away again, repeating this process until he tired of that garment.

When he started dating, he shifted gears, became proficient at shoplifting women’s clothing, accessories, even jewelry if he could get away with it.  And he could.  Each time was easier than the last.

In his earlier years he’d been very much concerned about concealing whatever item he might take.  The older he became, the more practiced, the better he understood that concealment had very little to do with it.  The foundation of the art of stealing was attitude.  If you took something, you told yourself it was yours, you owned it, and you walked out of the store brimming with confidence in this being fact.

As a result of this bold belief, he’d walk out of stores with large items, wheeling a bicycle here, or a spray paint compressor there.  Here a pair of stereo speakers, there a portable television.

Liberty House, especially the Fort Street store, Sears Ala Moana, J.C. Penney, Woolworth and Kress, these were some of his favorite targets.  It was as if they had no security at all.

For someone so reckless, he led a charmed life.  As each year passed, he grew more and more certain that he could get away with anything.

Shoplifting had only been stage one.  He wanted to expand his areas of expertise.  He wanted a bigger rush.  So one day he broke into his neighbor’s house and stole a bottle of whiskey and a box of cigars.

A few days later, he found an unlocked car and boosted the radio along with the pair of fuzzy dice that hung from the rearview mirror.

One Sunday he went down into Kaka‘ako, found a body shop with no security fence and stole a 1964 Chevy Impala.  He loved how the new black paint glistened in the sun as he drove around the island.  After abandoning the Impala, he caught the bus home, whistling and smiling all he way.

The University of Hawai‘i was a bargain back then, especially if you didn’t have to pay for any textbooks.  In his four years there, he never once bought a book.

Looking for bigger challenges ahead, he majored in accounting because he wanted a job that would get him near money.  His sights were set on padding himself for a nice retirement, and he was sure that wherever he ended up in the business world, he’d find a smart way to embezzle the funds he needed, over time, to assure his golden years were lived out in style.

Eventually he rose to a position as one of the top auditors for the City and County of Honolulu, and as he’d foreseen, he figured out ways to embezzle small amounts of money over time in such a way that it would never be missed given his oversight position.

And then, like a bolt from the blue, Beatrice had entered into his life.  It was too late for them to be able to start a family, but they had fallen in love at first sight.  This was something he never would have dreamed possible.  He was no romantic, had never thought much about love at all, and less and less the older he became.

He’d heard about life altering experiences.  Beatrice, he knew as it was happening, was one of these.

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