How to Lead a Life of Crime

CHAPTER ONE

* * *

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

My father never wasted his wisdom on me. But on the rare occasions when my family found itself in one room, and my father had emptied the drink in his hand, he would sometimes offer a piece of advice to my brother.

“In this world, Jude, there are only the weak and the strong,” he liked to say—and no matter how much Scotch was in him, he never slurred his words. “If you’re born weak, you need to suffer before you grow strong. And those of us who are strong should fight every day to avoid growing weak. Never show mercy to anyone who refuses to suffer or fight. They’re inferior beasts, and the world would be better without them.”

By the time he finished, his gaze would have settled on me. That was my cue to leave the room as quickly as possible. If I was lucky, I’d make it out of the door in time.

I thought my father was a monster. And he is. But that doesn’t mean he was totally wrong.

• • •

I can see the truth from where I’m standing now: in a darkened doorway that’s been used as a urinal by every drunk on the block. The stench doesn’t bother me that much anymore. It’s surprising what you grow used to. But after two hours of watching, the cold has finally seeped into my bones. This is the first winter I’ve spent outdoors, and I’m still learning how to survive in the wild. Most of the time, I’d force myself to stay put and endure the discomfort. But no one with a pocket worth picking has passed by my hiding spot, and I was just getting ready to call it a night.

Then a small group of girls began spilling out of an otherwise empty bar across Clinton Street. They’re the kind of females my father would call does. When I first heard him say it, I thought he meant Jane Does. Girls so bland and desperate to blend in that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. But now I suspect that my father meant deer. Big-eyed creatures with vacant expressions. The sort that travel in herds and don’t always have enough sense to run when they should.

These particular girls have downed so many drinks that they couldn’t flee if they felt the urge. I’m choosing my mark when one of the few cabs working on Christmas Eve turns down the street. Four giggling females pile in. When the taxi pulls away, I’m pleased to see that one of the does has been left behind. I don’t think she notices that her friends have abandoned her. Her eyes are closed, and she’s blissfully swapping spit with a man she just met.

That’s only a hunch, of course. But I doubt she’s ever laid eyes on loverboy during daylight hours. The sight of him would be enough to spook the dumbest of does. He’s at least ten years older, and he comes from one of the boroughs where bodybuilding and hair gel never go out of style. But this isn’t some Guido who took a wrong turn on his way to the nightclub. This guy’s slick-looking and sober. He’s a professional—the sort who always knows what he’s doing. I’d bet he’s dangerous. He might even be deadly. And she’s drunk enough to find him irresistible.

I know what he sees in her, too. He sees a rich girl who won’t say no. He sees pricey jewelry and a handbag whose contents could pay all of his bills for the next three months. At best, he’ll