Abet

“Have you ever done anything criminal?”

The fat man leered at me and leaned his beefy weight against the table. The table groaned, annoyed.

I turned to the other man, the quiet one with the shaded eyes who stood with his arms folded and staring, not straight ahead, but towards the plain concrete wall of the cold, claustrophobic room. The fat man gripped the glaring overhead light and turned it on me. “I’ll make it easier,” he said. “And talk real slow.” He didn’t talk slow. “Ever done anything questionable?”

I said that I had.

He grunted and nodded. The table under him gave a soft shriek.

“Are you, in fact, attempting to establish whether I knowingly abetted international jewel thief Raoul Distasteful in hiding his purloined Smithsonian booty?” I asked.

The fat man blinked at me.

“Or if,” I continued, “he was just a guy at the hostel who wanted to check some bags before catching the last tour of the day?”

The quiet man uncrossed his arms.

Little did they know that I was in fact Raoul Distasteful. I led a double life. I swam in the cool green waters of the Caribbean islands and ran black market goods from Kentucky to Timbuktu. The hostel was just a side gig. I figured if people wanted to see the world on the cheap they might as well have some place to hang their heads. Me, well, I never took to the taste of caviar but the feel of new silk sheets under a midnight romance, elegant soirees in the illegal bowels of the Roman colosseum, and tennis hijinks at the top of the world in the U.A.E. were too much fun to pass up. I suppose I’m a bit of a scoundrel but when there’s so much money for the taking, who’s hurt if I help myself to a little? But these lawmen, they had their suspicions.

“Can I be frank?” the quiet one said.

“Could I be Distasteful?”

They laughed at once. The fat one jiggled like a rubber pot of soup. I had made a joke! A well-timed one, at that. Unconsciously, they eased down some of their guard, going on to unburden their suspicions and lay their fears to rest. A criminal could not be funny, they reasoned. He has too much guilt to shoulder through before giving himself the chance to crack wise.

It’s true, isn’t it? A guilty conscience is a terrible weight on the mind. I caressed the whining table thoughtfully as the fat man sat on it and we rapped for a bit about that nasty criminal and his twisted hopes and dreams. I thought about ice cream.

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