He looked like a liar, which is a distinct disadvantage, if you are a liar. Yet, even with that disadvantage, he was a good liar. We might have been a couple of 14-year-old kids, but to listen to him, you’d think we’d been all over the world and slept with the greater portion of the fairer half of its population. Garth was a rat-faced kid whose skinny frame moved in jerky, suspicious beats. But, I liked him anyway because he could spin a tale and have the world believing him. Boring was one thing he never was.
We were cutting across town. The northern night fell cold and sharp--unkindly piercing the denim of our jackets, so we were in a hurry. Garth thought we’d bisect the city block with a diagonal through a car lot. I hesitated, but it was dark and the “No Trespassing” signs carried almost no weight since they were not being enforced by a fence of some sort. As we wove between the rows of used cars, a sort of howling emerged from the small building, set like an island in this sea of sedans and coupes. Very soon it became obvious it was a voice aimed at us, in a distant tongue. The tone was unkind. When it broke into English, it was dis-welcoming us to his car lot. “I know what you little shits do! I know! You may fool your mothers, but I know what bastards you are. You beat my cars. You make dents!”
In a near comic gesture, Garth and I looked at each other, then behind ourselves to see if he was really talking to someone else.
“You little shits! I know you! I know who you are!”
I did the geometry and figured we could be out of the lot before he got to us, if we went left. Garth went right, and he was yelling back, “Listen to me, buddy! Do you know who I am? Do you know WHO I AM?!?”
His brand of bravado-laced creativity was fine when we were trying to impress some girls at the Mini Mart or trying to get out of getting beaten up by the high school kids, but this was different, a fact...lost on Garth. So I grabbed his arm and took him away from the yelling man.
“I call cops on you! You see! I call cops!”
“I’ll call the cops on you!” Garth spat back brilliantly, as we hit the street running.
The thing about Garth was that lying wasn’t his only deadly sin. He had an affinity for stealing, too. Since I did not, I carefully concealed my rather impressive talent for picking locks--a talent that all started when I was about ten and one of the neighborhood bullies thought it was funny to padlock my bicycle chain to the spokes of my rear bicycle wheel. It took awhile, but I gamed the lock and rode on past the kid’s house about 199 times waving at him, not with all my fingers, from my bicycle. He ran after me, demanding his lock back, which was enough reason for me to keep his lock. That chincy padlock provided the Gateway Picking to bigger and better locks, and soon I had made my own set of picks (surreptitiously, in metalshop at school). Though stealing wasn’t in my repertoire, exploring and snooping was. So, curiosity determined the application of my craft.
When Garth and I were clear of the lot, the anger at the unjust accusations of the lot-keeper burned. It burned so hotly that it ignited my curiosity about what might be inside that little building overlooking the car lot.
It was well after one in the morning before we snuck out of our apartments and made our way back to the lot. I didn’t want Garth to see me pick the lock, or he would come up with all sorts of nefarious uses for my talent. So I got him to stand guard while I “tried the doors.” There were two. Even so, it took me a few minutes to “find” an unlocked door. I motioned Garth over, and we stepped into the office.
The pressure switch must have been under the doormat. The alarm sung with the shrill percussiveness that renders eardrums numb. In less than three-tenths of a second, I rolled over Garth, who was standing behind me; was out the door; and had tunneled under the first car I came to, with Garth right behind me. We stumbled out the other side and snuck deeper into the lot--away from where we were sure the cops would be coming and/or the lot keeper would be emerging with a rottweiler and belt-fed machine gun.
Comically, the alarm wound down onomatopoeiaically, like a depressed alley cat after one nip too many. In less than a minute, all was quiet again. No one came from the building. No lights went on. No cops arrived. We waited a few more minutes, then stood up like we belonged there. We strode into the building. I had to slap Garth’s hand just before he was about to turn on the light. It struck me he may have lied about his experience breaking into buildings.
There was already enough light coming in from the street through the windows from which the salesmen spied potential marks on the lot during the day. But that night the windows helped us find our way around inside. There were about six small rooms off of the lobby area. When Garth started going through desk drawers, I said, “Go stand watch in case someone called the cops.”
With that sentence, inspiration hit. I grabbed a big trash can and set it in the middle of the room. I went into each room, unplugged each phone, brought them into the lobby, and set them in the trash can. Garth, as expected, didn’t stay on watch. In a misguided effort to keep this from turning from trespass into theft, I had him help me carefully steal each phone.
“Let’s see him call the cops now!” I chortled with unbridled hilarity. With one of us on each side of the trash can, we snuck out the door into the dark car lot. Being all of 14-years-old, we were unencumbered by the notion that a couple of giggling kids walking down the sidewalk with a trash can full of telephones in the middle of the night was suspicious. When we crossed through an overgrown property, we stashed the phones in the brush and slunk to our homes as quickly as we could.
As a broad indicator of how silly an adolescent’s brain can work, the next night we went back to the car lot. We wove in through the cars and watched the place for a good fifteen minutes before I snuck up to the door alone. Amazingly, it was “left unlocked” again. (Garth didn’t notice it took me a few minutes to “find” the door unlocked.) I crept in; activated the brief, pathetic alarm; and then ran back to Garth to wait for the police to not show up and/or the lot keeper to not emerge with dogs and guns. Once back inside the offices, we found it hilarious that new phones had been installed--and not the kind with the dials. These had been replaced by the ones with buttons! Garth had started going through desk drawers again when another idea struck me. I grabbed Garth and dragged him out of there. In about 15 minutes we were back with a trash can full of old phones. In another 15 minutes, every one of the new phones had been swapped out for one of the old phones we had stolen the night before, and the new phones were now in the trash can. We fled the building, with a full trash can, to the lot. It took a few minutes, but we found an unlocked car. It was a station wagon, so we opened the hatch and dumped the phones in the back. Garth wanted to put the trash can back--a thin guise to go through a couple more desks. But alas, the door was locked this time, so he set the can on the stoop.
The next morning we met at school. Garth was so excited by our adventure that I knew the whole school was going to know about it in a couple minutes; so I begged him that if he had to tell the story, he should broadcast it starring a different accomplice, in a different town. I could tell by the look on his rodential face his promise to do so was a lie. This incited a slow-burn of panic.
I skipped first-period class and went to the lot with nothing even resembling a plan. It was still early, and no one was there; but it was daylight now. So if the stupid alarm went off, people would notice. Also, the station wagon where the new phones had been deposited was closer to the street than it had seemed at night. I was at the end of the block when a car pulled into the lot. I crouched behind a light pole; and at that age, I was skinny enough to be hidden by it. It wasn’t the guy who had yelled at us who got out of the car, but I was still terrified when he got to the door and had to remove the trash can from the stoop. He looked at it suspiciously, then looked around the lot. He unlocked the door, with a key, then went in.
The phone number was posted on the front door; and not able to find a pen in my jacket, I quickly memorized it . The phone booth was less than a block down the street.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, your new phones are in the back of one of the cars.”
Silence. It struck me that he’d answered with one of the old phones, forgetting that it was suppose to be a new one.
“Really?” he finally said.
When I got back to school, Garth predictably had made sure everyone knew he and I had pulled off the heist of the century. He was the mastermind, and I almost got us busted because, yup, I was going to turn on the light, which would have given away our position to the snipers. The part I liked best about his story was how the door was always left unlocked, inviting us into this palatial den of opulence. Or, as I knew it, a little, crappy used car lot just off the strip with a worn out lock I could open with a paperclip.
That was the last adventure I shared with Garth. He was on an ever increasing, impulse-fed, downward spiral. He tried to get me to drop out of school and move to California with him, so I moved onto a different set of friends. He swore he had jobs waiting for us and we would live like kings on the beach. That was the final lie. Shortly after, Garth fell off the face of the Earth. I sincerely hoped he was on a beach somewhere, warm and free from the truth he feared--the truth for which he would tell any lie to anyone not to reveal.