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Yeah, I'm such a punk for letting my side of the bargain down...this entry promises to be a quick scoot, especially Chapter 12 ("The Boot-trick and Others"), which isn't much more than a tutorial of (wink wink) what to look out for. In sections like these, it's all too apparent the fine line that author Rook is walking, especially since his stated goal is to be totally honest about the world of young criminals. As Lenny Bruce once said about sex ed in schools, telling kids about syphilis isn't the same as ordering them to go out and get it. Likewise, telling kids how some people engage in the art of dognapping (especially detailing the unspoken threat of poisoning the pet of an owner who stiffs on a reward) isn't the same thing as walking them through their first caper. But you know how parents can be about giving children bad ideas. Especially if they're secretly afraid that they've raised the types of amoral monsters the previous eleven chapters have been telling us about.

Of course, it could be like those card counting books which the Vegas/Atlantic City dealers were afraid would give the game away, but in practice gave the lightweights just enough misplaced confidence to blow twice as much as they would without "the system"...which they didn't bother to learn correctly in the first place.

Anyway, the maxim of this section is something that even an honest person can appreciate: a little diversity in your skill set doesn't hurt your opportunities, and you'll lose your determination if you're too idle too long. With that in mind, a quick trip through the chapter tells us about:

  • blackmail, which Alf won't usually touch unless he's got nothing in his pocket but a handkerchief.
  • charity scams.
  • the best way to rob a church on a Sunday.
  • offering to clean out a store's empty boxes and crates...while making sure to slip a full one in your bundle.
  • fun with unattended carts and horses.
And then, a few that are worth covering a bit more completely, starting with the "boot trick". Well, it is in the chapter heading...

Maggots and Alf had a hankering for some new boots, and Maggots' landlord (who, like most derelict landlords, doesn't recognize one of his tenants on sight) ran a shoe shop. That the caper would put one over on him would be a bonus.
'[...]So we nips down to the shop, an' goes in, an' I arsts to be showed a pair of boots. First pair I tried on fitted me a treat; but I fair nicked that they were too tight for me corns.

' "Easy, guv'nor," I says, "easy. I want a pair of boots for walkin' in," I says. "I can't ford to sit wiv me trotters on a sofy smokin' ceegars all day. See?"

'The ole Jew snob says, "Why, they're a splendid fit," he says.

' "After you, guv'nor," I replies. "They'd cripple me fore I'd walked a dozen yards."

' "You talk sense," he says. "An' don't your fren want a pair too?" he says.

' "I don't say I won't look at a pair, now you mention it," says Maggots. "On'y, don't you clamp up my trotters like what you 'ave my fren's," he says.

' "I'll do you bofe a good turn," says the Jew snob. Wiv that 'e brings out anuvver pair of boots, an' Maggot tries 'em on. "There," says the ole Jew, "I never in all life see such fits."

' "Fits it is," says Maggots. "Why, I couldn't 'obble in 'em, let alone walkin'."

' An' wiv that 'e makes a show of 'obblin cross the floor of the shop, an' me after 'im, makin' out as if I couldn't 'ardly put one foot down fore the uvver. An' soon as we come to the door, Maggots flings it open an' scoots, an' me after 'im. Pace we went was a testermonial to the ole Jew's boots, wiv no error. I like to fink 'ow we got a bit of our own back off that bleed'n' ole Jew.'

Young Alf kicked the toes of his boots viciously against the parapet of the bridge. Then he turned again suddenly to me, and his eyes gleamed, while his mouth worked convulsively.

'I'll see meself righted, if I do five years for it,' he said. (pp. 149-51)
There's also the matter of till-lifting, and the very cozy tip that the combination of a woman shopkeeper and a cashbox under the counter is a recipe for disaster.
As an illustration of the folly to which a woman shopkeeper will stoop, young Alf recounted to me his last exploit in the till-lifting line. It was at Peckham. The day was cold, wet, and foggy. And young Alf was going round with a piano-organ, which was wheeled by one of the lads that worked with him. Young Alf finds that a piano-organ gives excellent cover, and enables a boy to see the world without incurring the world's suspicion.
He had ground out a couple of tunes in front of a small shop which dealt in sweets and newspapers, when the woman came out and gave him twopence. Moreover, seeing that his clothes were thin and poor, she said it was a shame that a boy should face such weather without a decent coat to his back. Young Alf was invited into the shelter of the shop, while the kind-hearted woman went upstairs to fetch a coat which had belonged to her son. She had no longer a son to wear it; so she told young Alf.
Young Alf stood alone in the little shop, amazed at the folly of the woman who had left him there. He leaned over the counter and slid the till out.
About fifteen shillings!
He had the choice of fifteen shillings and a few odd coppers, or a second-hand coat which might be worth a good deal less, and was certainly not worth more than that sum. Such was the problem that presented itself to our young friend, nor do I think it was complicated by any other data.
He chose the fifteen shillings - with the odd coppers, and scooted, leaving the other lad to find his way home with the organ.
Once, as young Alf told me this story, I fancied I detected a touch of shame, a mere hint of an apology, in his tone. But I was mistaken.
When he had ended, I hinted that it would have been at least courteous to await the return of the good-hearted woman.
Young Alf saw my meaning; for he is sharp-witted enough.
He explained that when a boy gets hanked by softheartedness he is better off the business.
After all, this is a very sound commercial maxim, and lies at the root of bigger businesses than till-snatching. (pp. 151-3)
While the previous chapter was a veritable rainy-day fun book for the crooked child, Chapter 13 ("Playing For the Pocket") opens with Alf running a pickpocket clinic on his companion.
'Supposing you wanted to pick my pocket, how would you set to work?' I asked young Alf.

The question produced a most disconcerting answer.

I had not walked two paces farther when young Alf had me helpless. He had seized the lapels of my unbuttoned overcoat, one in either hand, and with a swift jerk pushed the garment back as far as my elbows. My arms were pinioned.

'That's one way,' said young Alf, as his eyes gleamed in my lace.

'But I could kick,' I said.

'Not fore I'd got yer ticker.'

'But I should chase you.'

'You wouldn't see me. I should be be'ind, an' me pal'd go froo the pockets.'

'But you haven't got a pal.'

'I shouldn't work wivout a pal, p'r'aps two, where there wasn't a crowd,' said young Alf, releasing my arms.

I shuffled back into my coat.

'Quarter to ten,' said young Alf, looking at something in his hand, as we came under a lamp-post.

I stopped short.

'I got the ticker,' said young Alf, handing it back to me. His cheeks were puffing convulsively. He was mightily amused.

Replacing the watch in my pocket - though my claim to its possession seemed a poor one - I buttoned up my coat, and walked on, somewhat crestfallen. (pp. 154-5)
We find out that while a minimum of two are necessary to pick pockets properly, a single act can have a go if he's brazen enough. The accidental bump we're all familiar with, but Alf also mentions that putting a sack over the guy's head(!) works just as well for a distraction. And really, I can't imagine a guy for whom a sudden bag over the head wouldn't be at least a minor inconvenience. Anyway, solo work is what it is, but having two or three confederates assists you with an essential element of the pocket sneak's field strategy: keep the goods on you for as short a time as possible, in case you get collared.

He tells us that crowds can work to your advantage in a number of different ways. The most obvious way is staging a street brawl and working the spectators while they're properly agitated. While it may seem counterintuitive, an angry mob can help your getaway, too.
He was strolling in the city, and looking for any stray articles that could be picked up. Walking down Leadenhall Street, in the direction of Aldgate, he noticed a lady who was looking in at a shop-window. In her hand was a purse which took Young Alf's eye.

He snatched it, and ran off at full speed.

'Stop thief!' shrieked the lady.

Several other people took up the cry; and a toff, who nearly succeeded in heading him off, followed close at his heels.

It was an exciting race, for the toff could run a bit. However, young Alf headed eastwards, and felt he was gaining. By this time, the crowd behind him had gained in numbers and in shouting power, and as he turned a corner at Aldgate he noticed that something like a hundred pursuers intervened between him and the toff.

Now there is this curious feature about the crowd that takes part in a man-hunt: most of the pursuers do not know whom they are chasing or why they are chasing him. For the newcomers join in at the front of the mob instead of at the rear, where those who are likely to know most about the matter are falling behind. Moreover, even if the original pursuer can spring decently, he soon finds his path blocked by a mob of excited and useless runners.

Young Alf thinks quickly in an emergency, and this was an emergency to stimulate the most sluggish intelligence. The peculiar characteristic of the crowd that chases a pick-pocket flashed across his mind as he turned the corner at Aldgate, and he concluded that since he could no longer see the toff, the toff could no longer see him.

'Stop him!' cried the crowd behind him, and, as they swept along, others stood ready to join in the pursuit.

Young Alf shouted with the crowd.

'Stop 'im! Stop 'im!' he yelled, waving his arms in invitation to the waverers.

'Stop oo?' said one and another, attracted by Young Alf's excitement, and joining him as he ran.

' 'im,' said young Alf. 'Jest turned the corner. I'm blowed, I am. Can't go much furver.'

The crowd swept on, gradually engulfing young Alf.

By this time he had reached a country that he knew. A city of refuge was at hand. There is nothing like a public-house with an entrance in one street and an exit in another.

Young Alf slipped in, nodded to the landlord, and emerged into a quiet street, while the shouts of the crowd pursuing a phantasmal quarry died away in the distance.

Purse-snatching, you will perceive, has its risks. You require special gifts for the pursuit. (pp. 161-2)
We end on one of the few times Alf worked with a female--Lizzie, who came with credentials. Alf insinuated himself with a toff at a pub one night, then brought in Lizzie into the group as his "wife". Using jealousy as an excuse, Alf moved from one side of the gent to the other, striking nothing but lint in either pocket. His brass was obviously in the inside pocket...and Alf decided he wouldn't mind the coat, either.
' "How you fink," I says, "how you fink I'd look in a coat like that?"

' "How can I tell wivout I see you wiv one on?" says Lizzie.

' "That'd be a sight too big for me," I says, looking at the toff's coat. "The gen'l'man's broader cross the chest than what I am."

' "Not me," he says. He wanted to get back into my good graces. See? "I bet you drinks," he says, "you fill it as well as I do."

'An' wiv that 'e off with the coat an' I put it on; 'im elpin'.

' "What you fink of that?" I says, walkin' up an' down the bar.

' "It's a mile too big," says Lizzie. "Shouldn't ardly know you was there."

' "Well, I ain't there," I says, comin' to the door and doin' a scoot.'

Young Alf's cheeks denoted intense amusement at this sally.

' 'Cause I was somewhere else,' he explained, on recovering his power of speech. 'An' one or two days afterwards there was a rare old liquor up at that pub wiv some of the boys that'd watched the performance. Lizzie come in for 'er share, too. Matter o' ten pounds there was in the inside pocket.'

Young Alf sat with legs extended, his hands in his trouser pockets, and sighed at the recollection.

'And--and about Lizzie--' I said. (pp. 164-5)

Yes, what about Lizzie?

Next: About Lizzie. You think I've said it enough times?


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