The first sign of something amiss was the feckless little heap on the ground beneath my truck. A knit cap, it was, dark gray with a bright green Under Armour logo on the front.

A hat left at the scene of the crime. Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal

Once I spotted the hat, other treasures came into view. The white Bic lighter. A handful of change scattered across the cold pavement. And in the middle of all of that, a white blade from a reciprocal saw, bent and twisted from its sinful night’s labor.

In my mind, I already knew. But I climbed into the truck and gave the key a twist just for the heck of it.

The Ford Ranger growled to life with an uncharacteristic roar; an angry dragon who awakes to find that he has been violated in his sleep. I didn’t have to crawl beneath the truck for a look, but I did it, anyway. Yup. This dragon has been violated, all right. In the wee hours of morning, some wretch with a Sawzall crept beneath the Ranger and cut off, not just one catalytic converter, but all three of them, taking a couple feet of pipe in the process.

For me, the first reaction isn’t despair. It isn’t regret or the black sense of gloom that comes when one can see dollars flying away like birds from your bank account.

For me, first comes the fury.

I hate thieves. I despise them more than any other class of  lowlife on the planet. With their grubby fingers and black hearts, these vile creatures satisfy their own desires by stealing what others have earned.

The impact of this theft was immediate. While the thieving weasel is enjoying the few bucks he’ll get for my converters, I’m riding my motorcycle everywhere I need to go no matter how cold it gets or how much ice appears on the roads. I’ll have to spend a thousand dollars or so to get the damage repaired, so Merry Christmas, loved ones. You’re all getting ice scrapers this year.

The hardships this underworld stranger has burdened me with are infuriating, yet I’m aware that for some, this kind of merciless destruction could spell much greater doom.

What if the car you mangled belonged to a struggling young mother who desperately needs it to get to work so that she can continue feeding her children? What if belonged to some ailing old woman who relies on that car to get to her thrice-weekly doctors appointments? What if it was some dude who’s between jobs and who needs to get to an interview this very day? Think he’s going to make it with his exhaust in pieces?

But you could play this game forever. Thieves target these kinds of people every day, and who’s keeping a tally of how many lives they ruin in the process? These malignant crooks don’t give one damn who they’re taking from or what the consequences will be for those people. Because they’re filthy, cowardly lowlifes, in case you missed that bullet point. To these scuttling insects, it’s all about the crumpled dollars they can put in their own pockets by screwing over someone else.

We’re not talking about the desperate man who steals a loaf of bread because he can’t otherwise afford to feed his children. That may happen, but it doesn’t happen a lot. Read through the daily police log or the grand jury indictments and what you’ll mostly find are unscrupulous weasels who creep into houses or break into cars because they need a few bucks for dope and … well, what are they supposed to do? Go out and earn their bucks the honest way?

Me, I’d be a terrible thief. Empathy ruins it – when you steal, you’re taking something away from another person and diminishing that person’s life. The guilt over that fact alone would keep me up at night. It would nag me relentlessly until I was like that murderous sap in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the shameful thump of my own conscience driving me to madness.

I have far more respect for beggars on the street than I do for thieves. Beggars aren’t taking what is yours, they’re asking you openly to share with them. A thief will slide his slimy hand right into your pocket, if he thinks he can get away with it. He’ll root through your wife’s underwear drawer or smash your kid’s piggy bank to pieces if he thinks it will put some Oxy in his pocket at the end of the day.

You bust your back for 40 or 50 hours a week to pay for the things you have. These guys only have to crawl through a window or wriggle beneath a truck like the worms they are. No conscience. No compassion. No soul.

And no consequences a lot of the time. How much time can police put in on a case like this, when they have bigger dramas unfolding all over the city day and night?

So, while I’m calling mechanics and nervously eyeing my bank account, I’m also sleuthing. Or rather, I’m crowd sourcing an investigation, turning loose a few dozen people on Facebook who, as it happens, possess enough collective curiosity, outrage and advanced snooping skills to put those CSI dorks to shame.

It’s the outrage, mostly. The fury. That’s the engine that drives average people to stay up until 3 a.m. cross -referencing names on Facebook in hopes of zeroing in on a lowlife thief. Most people feel the way I do about them, after all. Maybe if they can find whomever it was who cannibalized poor LaFlamme’s Ranger, they can stop those punks from targeting that little old lady who lives next door, or the sickly man over on the next block.

And some people are just born to sleuth. They’re good at it and they’re relentless. So sleuth away, my dogged friends. Police took the Sawzall blade, but I still have the gray hat (with bright green Under Armour logo), the white Bic and roughly a dollar in change in case you want to get the lab boys on it.

And while you’re at it, park your car a little closer to a mean ol’ dog because these catalytic converter thieves are working overtime these days. They’re stealing pieces of our cars and selling them for the metals because they’re too lazy, too stupid or too just plain evil to earn their own money. It’s easier to take from somebody else.

As for the Under Armour cap, I understand those suckers go for $30 or more. I’ll wash it, dry it and keep it as a down payment on the repairs. Unless the thief wants it back, in which case he’s welcome to come get it. Three catalytic converters and a couple feet of pipe, that’s all it will cost you.

I’ll throw in the hat cleaning for free.

 

 

A hat left at the scene of the crime. Mark LaFlamme


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