The Long Arm Of The Law
Lithgow, New South Wales
Max Turner was a good boy, much to his own disappointment. Not that he thought much about being either good or bad before the age of twelve. He had a happy home life; he was joyful or miserable whenever the occasion arose. He squabbled with his brothers, but always bought them birthday presents. All in all he was an average boy.
It all changed when he went into high school. Here he mixed with a wider variety of peers, including boys from tougher neighbourhoods. He looked up to these more worldly individuals and listened to stories of their exploits. They boasted of wagging school, of shoplifting, of getting the cane; of taking part in back lane fights; all heady stuff to a lad who had never been in serious trouble.
They also talked disparagingly of their parents. Some expressed real hatred for their mothers and fathers. Young Max actually respected his parents, although he would never admit it. He thought of them as old fashioned and dull and a bit too strict, but he had no serious complaints about them.
A challenge came when one of his new friends asked him to tell them things he had done. Max made up one or two fairly tame stories, but reluctantly admitted that he had never stolen anything from a shop or a supermarket.
He tried to avoid these more adventurous souls, but couldn’t help encountering them in the playground or at sports. To his great embarrassment he began to get the reputation of being a whoose or a wimp or a goody goody.
He decided that this could not go on; he must do something to prove his adventurousness, his bravery, his daring. He must have a story of derring-do to relate among his peers. He would take the day off school and do some shoplifting. He lay awake at nights planning it and quivering with excitement at the thought of it. He planned every move and knew exactly what he would steal. He had been told that ‘they’ couldn’t actually apprehend you and accuse you until you had left the shop, trying to conceal the goods.
At last the day came. Instead of going to school, he hid his school bag under a bush in someone’s yard and got the bus into town. He was wearing appropriate clothes including a jacket with copious pockets and a hood that hid some of his face.
In the city he wandered around for a while, feeling nervous in spite of his excitement. Of course he would try hard not to be caught, but what if the long arm of the law reached out to him? Would he be jailed? Would they take those awful photos of him, front face and profile? Would he spend the rest of his life as a known criminal?
No, he would not be caught. He had heard about the tricks of avoidance and knew how to be careful.
In the large department store he began at the confectionary department, finding that bags of lollies and rolls of Lifesavers were easy to pick up. One or two chocolate bars added to his loot. He found himself in the book department and picked up a little book entitled, The Elements of Style. It meant nothing to him, but it slipped into his pocket easily. On the way to the checkout he popped a packet of pens into his pocket with the rest.
Then came the great acting; he put on an extremely casual air, sauntering along, hands carelessly in his pockets, softly whistling a little carefree tune. He adjusted his face into an expression of pure innocence.
It was surprisingly easy to slip past the cash register beside another customer as the cashier concentrated on her work.
Out in the street he knew he was not out of danger yet. Trying not to think of ‘what if?’ he readied himself for a quick dash along the footpath.
Then the unthinkable happened. It was then that a hand touched him on the arm. Security! It was too late to think of a lie; too late to throw away the contents of his pockets. Caught!
Panic stricken, Max turned and looked up into the face of – his father.
‘We’re going straight back in and returning everything,’ his father said. ‘Then you’re going to school.’
This had never happened to his adventurous friends. He could not admit to them that he father had caught him. Sadly he would go through the rest of his life with an unblemished reputation.
Bio: Winsome Smith has written many articles, stories and poems. She writes regularly for a local newspaper, Village Voice. Her book Tales the Laundress Told is available from Amazon and Balboa Press.