THE INFORMATION #930
“Yob,” said Count Victor Justin, “if you’re the kind of Greenie who gets all his romantic notions about the criminal underworld from the pages of pulp magazines, then you are being badly misled. Most crooks are pretty dumb, and pretty cowardly, too. If they weren’t dumb, they’d have figured out some way to get their ooftish by honest means, and if they weren’t cowardly, they would join the Army or the Navy and manage to scrape together a bankroll that way. Of course, some crooks did once go in for soldiering–and they learned an awful lot about guns in the process–but they were usually the weak-willed types, gamblers and such, who squandered their bankrolls or somehow managed to get court martialed or even cashiered as a disciplinary problem. The problem with not being selective about who you take in as a soldier is that what are you going to do with these mental and moral defectives once they get out or are thrown out of the army? Chances are, they never learned a useful trade, and so unless they go into business as policemen, they have very little incentive, it seems, to stay out of jail, where, just like the Army or Navy, you can get three square meals a day and a warm place to sleep. Well–not always warm. And almost never very comfortable. So-called decent folks don’t want criminals to have nothing. O, how their blood boils when they learn that a lean old con has somehow contrived to wrangle himself a warm shirt, or an extra blanket! I know some barbarian tribes who treat their wrongdoers with more common courtesy and compassion than they treat them hereabouts, or in England or Canada. What, do they think that compassion is wasted on the malefactor? In certain cases, I would say yes. But those are rare. I’ll tell you something Yob–it is far easier to fall afoul of the law than you might think, and, but for fortune, I myself might have been an old lag with a 25 year sentence to serve. But I never went in for any of the rough stuff, and I certainly never committed mail fraud, nor robbed any banks, though I certainly learned a lot of techniques of that sort when I was bunged up in prison on a bum rap. I was on my uppers, and fell in with a Yellof who had a racket selling Persian rugs door to door. I’d rather not go into the details, but some customers complained that the rugs weren’t as genuine as they were purported to be, and I got thirty days for selling without a business licence, which was just a low down way for the town officials–I won’t say who– to squeeze even more money out of the poor and the down and out. Never fear–someday they’ll get theirs. Every dog has his day.
“When you get sent to prison, while you’re there you get to hob-nob with a bunch of eminent Loochers with a great deal of time on their hands. They are Yobs who are prone to mischief even in their best moments, and prison brings out the worst in them. It was in prison that I learned of a new way of robbing banks. Back in the olden days, a desperado would go crashing in without even the first notion of what the setup was–he would trust to blind fate to see him through–him, and his confederates, if he had any. But when I was in the pen I heard of a new way to conduct the business–just like a military operation. First off, you have to case the joint very carefully, just as though you were doing a second-storey job. You get the layout of the place and follow the movements of the principal players, and then you write it all down and draw a map and plan the operation right down to the minute. And you need to have four people to do the job right. You have the lead robber, who walks point, and ambles up to the teller’s cage and shows his gun. You have his partner, who has a shot gun, and fires once into the ceiling so the people will get down on the floor. He’s the one who covers the bank guard, if there happens to be one. You have the getaway car driver, who needs only two qualities–mechanical aptitude and nerves of iron. Plus, an ability to read a map and find all the backroads and plot the best way to get out of town in a hurry. And finally, you have the lookout. It’s either the easiest job, or the hardest. He stands outside the bank and if there’s no trouble, he’ll stand by the door and look official and tell people that the bank is closed due to a gas leak or something. But if a lawman or some other snoop notices something amiss and walks over to investigate, then it’s the lookout’s job to take that nebby-nose out of the picture. You don’t want to have to shoot a civilian, or especially a lawman, because it always brings down the heat, but sometimes that’s what it amounts to. You have to pick the lookout carefully. He has to be a man who knows his business, and can react quickly in a jam. An ex-soldier is best. A man who is handy with a gun, but who also can whomp up a line of smooth patter. A bad professional is better than a good amateur–that’s what all the jailbirds say.
“Anyway, Yob, I wouldn’t recommend going in for being a bank robber. Most of them end up in the County Morgue–a nasty place. You want to know what their motto is? ‘Remains to be seen.’ Have you ever been there? Well, do yourself a favor, and pass the opportunity by. The morgue smells like rotten hamburger, and dead rats, and formaldehyde, and stale tobacco–because all the lawmen and medicos smoke foul-smelling cigars to inoculate themselves against the stink. But even the cheapest El Ropo won’t mask the disparate aromas which emanate off of the well-croaked. You can count on it. And the smell gets into your skin and forms a thin greasy layer that you have to scrub yourself red and raw with a stiff brush to thoroughly expunge. It is no place to have a picnic lunch with your sweetie–and that’s a dead cert. If you’ll pardon the expression.”
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