Monday, January 6, 2014

Riley Vs. The Comic Book Thieves

Riley Vs. The Comic Book Thieves 

On the morning of New Years Eve, December of 2013, my mother and I went back to the old house to retrieve some things, as we were in the process of moving. The front door was locked, but on entering, I noticed that something was amiss. I saw the pantry door was open, along with every door in the house. Even the kitchen cabinets were opened. The basement door was open as well. 

I then said to my mother, “Somebody was in here.” 

“Are you sure?” she asked. 

“Somebody had to be in here.” I said. “All the doors are opened.” 

I then went down to the basement, and saw that one of the windows down there had been smashed. It was broken from the outside. Shards of dusty glass glistened on the concrete of the basement floor. And as the basement window is next to the backdoor, I then checked it as well. Both the deadbolt and knob were unlocked, which is incredibly unusual. I always locked both the knob and deadbolt, even if I was only outside for minute. And I knew it was locked after our last visit to the house. My mother had been feeding a stray cat on the property, and had checked up on the old house the day before. This meant that whoever broke into the house must have done it recently, most likely the night before.
I did a quick survey of the basement, and immediately knew what was missing; a plastic tub full of Sin City action figures. There was also a Kaneda figure, a Vlad Tepes figure (from McFarlane toys), and a box of Akira minifigures. There was also other Sin City items, such as shot glasses and bobbleheads taken. They had also rifled through the other tubs in the basement; all of which were filled with old Halloween, Christmas, and assorted holiday decorations.  

I ran up the basement steps, and then into the living room. I saw what I’d feared most; my old comic book longbox (a type of white, cardboard box used to store comics) was gone. I had taken all my new and higher end comics to my new apartment. But I’d temporarily left a longbox behind, along with some kitchenware (pots and pans). The house was always locked up, and so we thought it was secure. The main bulk of essential stuff (clothes, dishes, flatware, books, DVDS etc.) were already moved from the house to the new apartment. However, my mother had left behind some of her clothes. As we were permitted to take our time from our previous landlord, we were using the old house as temporary storage. It was a plan that I was against, as I wanted to move everything out in a single day. However, my mother has the tendency to make things more difficult than need be. The result was that we were still taking boxes out of the house, even after our initial move-in date. 

On further inspection, my mother noticed that her bedroom had been rifled through as well. While the thieves didn’t get anything valuable from her, they did jack-up the closet where some of her clothes were kept. 

Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t burn the house down. It was mildly ransacked, but not as bad as I thought burglars would normally do it. I was afraid that something like this would happen. As soon I knew we were moving I had packed things up right away. Meanwhile, my mother dragged her feet. I wanted nothing left in the house after the main move-out, save for minor things we could get later. I was a little upset with my mother, especially as she was passive about it. As always, she tried to sweep it under the rug. She didn’t want to phone the police, or even deal with it in anyway. I, on other hand, was extremely pissed off. Not only did I want to phone the police, I wanted to catch whoever did this, and see them punished. But most of all, I wanted that longbox back. 

The longbox contained the first comics I’d ever been given; including my first comic book; an issue of Marvel Tales with Spider-Man on the cover. I also had issues of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man run, issues of Disney’s Ducktales, Warlord, Action Comics, Batman, Detective Comics, and assorted Fantastic Four issues. There was also a mint set of Marvel trading cards, given to me by my late Uncle Bob. I had already taken my old TMNT Adventures issues and G.I. Joe issues from the box. Also contained in that box were PVC figures of assorted Marvel characters; the radical blue Nightcrawler, blind avenger Daredevil, and the stone-faced Ben Grim (The Thing). These were figures that I’d bought years ago, oddly enough from the shop where I now work. Also many of the 90’s comics in that box came from my place of work. They had been bought by me nearly twenty years ago at Phantom of the Attic.   

I assumed that I’d never see the box again. I called local shops, in the hopes that the longbox and figures might surface. I talked with Roy, the owner of shop where I work, and he was very supportive, as was Tom, my co-worker. Meanwhile, I felt like an idiot for not getting the box out of the house sooner. My mother spoke to the police about the theft and break-in, but it seemed there was little that could be done. I felt victimized, and worse, like there was little I could do. I went to work, and tried my best to smile through it.  
Still, I didn’t let it ruin my New Years. I watched the networks, and their coverage of Times Square in New York. I drank Arnold Palmer and vodka, but the theft was in the back of my mind.

I was working by myself on January 4th, as Roy and his family were preparing to move. I was doing what we call “a solo flight” at work. The day began slow, and typical. Some regulars came into the store, and picked up their comics. I had a mild sore throat, and had slept poorly the night before. But I was jovial, and cracked the usual jokes with customers. While I didn’t dwell on the theft, it was still fresh in my mind. 

Then, something very strange happened. 

That afternoon, a young man came into the store. He had an olive complexion, freckles, short black hair, and an ear piercing. He wore a dirty, tan-colored work jacket, and filthy work boots. On his shoulder was a comic book long box. He laid it down in front of me, and then said, “I have some comics to sell.” 

I instantly recognized the box. It was my box. I knew it was my box. And when I opened the lid, and saw Ben Grim staring back at me (along with the labeled bag I made for him when I was eleven) I knew definitively that it was my box! 

I thought to myself, “What are the odds that the son of a bitch who stole my comics would try to sell them back to me?”

My first reaction was to feel anger. I could feel the adrenaline surge from my head, and into my limbs. But I knew that if I lost my temper I might lose my chance to catch him. Instead, I chose to keep my cool. 

I said to him, “I’ll take these next door to the backroom. That’s where we do our sorting.”

The guy agreed, and thought nothing of it. 

I took the box into our storage room, where we keep old back issues and assorted items. I then locked the door. The idea was to keep the box away from him, incase he tried to do a “grab and run.” And while I was in the stockroom, I called the cops. 

I walked back into the store with a smile on my face, and I said, “I just called the shop owner. He’ll be here in a few minutes. He does all the buying for old back issues.” 

“Ok,” the guy said. 

He was thankfully oblivious to what was going on. 

I then asked him, “Where did you get these comics?” 

“Oh, uh, I got them from my grandmother’s basement.” The guy said. 

I knew that was a lie. The box was in my living room when it was stolen. 

“Yeah,” the guy said, “I’m growing out of them. I, like, want to sell them off. I got some of the original characters in there. I like, got a book that tells you how much they are worth. My grandmother put some prices on there for me.” 

That was also a lie. None of the comics in there were priced. Hell, he couldn’t even tell me what was in the box. He also didn’t know the title of the Overstreet Guide.  

I then asked him, “What do want for them?” 

“About a dollar a comic.” he offered. 

I was still keeping my cool, but I seethed on the inside. Not only did he lie about how he got them, he also made an offer to sell stolen goods. 

I continued to make small talk with him, in an attempt to stall him till the cops showed up. I stood in the doorway, and made sure he didn’t leave. Fortunately, I didn’t have to chat with the dirt bag for very long. A tall, dark, and ruggedly handsome officer came up the steps, and into our shop. 

“What’s the situation here?” The First Officer’s voice boomed. 

The thief looked over at him. The colored drained from his face. I could tell by his expression that he must have dropped a large load in his pants. He knew what this was about. And I’m also sure he knew he wasn’t walking out of the shop that day. 

My voice snarled as I said, “This guy broke-in to my house the other day. He stole comic books from me. Now, he’s trying to sell them here.” 

The tall, dark-haired officer stood right in front of him, and looked intimidating. 

“I don’t what he’s talking about.” the guy said. “I Found them in the trash.” 

“No you didn’t!” I growled. “You stole them from my house!” 

“I’ll talk to you in a sec.” The Officer addressed me. He then turned his attention back to the thief. “Where did you get these comic books?” 

The thief was instantly nervous. He changed his story again, and said, “I got them from this house up on ___street.” 

“Show me your I.D.” The Officer commanded. 

He took the guy’s I.D. and then ran the number on his license. 

“Do you have any warrants out for you?” The Officer asked. 

“Uh, no.” The thief said. 

“If I talk to the police chief in your town, he’s gonna tell me you’re a nice guy?” The Officer asked. 

“I don’t know.” the thief said, brainlessly.  

“Do you have any court cases pending?” The Officer asked. 

“Yeah, my girlfriend tried to stab me with a knife. I have to show up to court for that.” 

I thought to myself, “If she succeeded we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” 

Clearly, this was the criminal mastermind of our generation here. I’m sure Moriarty would be jealous. 

Another office came into the store. He was then followed by another officer; this one knew my mother from working in the mall. He asked to see my longbox. I showed it to him, and then gave details as to what had happened. I told him about the robbery, and what had gone on today. I also gave them a break down of what had been taken in the burglary. 

We went back into the shop. I stood there, and watched as the police continued to question the suspect. I kept my eyes on the human stain, and didn’t once look away from him. I wanted him to know that not only was I not afraid of him, but that I was incredibly angry at him. I wanted him to know both of these things. But I kept my tongue silent. 

“Like I said, ’I found them in the trash.’” the thief reiterated. 

“You didn’t find them in the trash!” The Senior Officer bellowed. “It’s been wet outside, that box is bone dry!”

“It wasn’t me!” the thief protested. “It was some guy I know. He took it. He gave it to me.” 

“That’s not any better.” The Senior Officer charged. “That’s receiving stolen property.” 

The thief looked over at me, and then said, “I hope he gets his comics back.” 

The Senior Officer then bellowed, “Oh, he’s going to get his comic books back!” 

Two things went through my mind about the thief. My first thought was, “How stupid is this prick?” My second thought was, “That high school excuse of, ’I didn’t do nothing.’ won’t work here.” I knew he was full of shit, and the cops could smell it. 

The thief then admitted to having accomplices. He also told the cops that they were outside at this very minute. 

One of the officers took down my contact info before taking the suspect away. Just before he was lead out, the nervous, shit-in-his-pants thief, said to me, “Man, I’m sorry this happened to you. I hope you get your stuff back.” 

I held myself in check. If I swore at him, it might be used against me. Also, I was at work, and there were two customers in the store at the time. But there were a million things I wanted to say to this guy. Not the least of which was this, “I wished your parents had used birth control, so you wouldn’t exist right now.”

So, the cops led him outside to be cuffed. But the story doesn’t end there. His accomplices were with him too. I watched from the store window as the cops approached his car. They were confronted by a behemoth of a woman. She was Caucasian, and had frizzy brown hair, pulled back into a ponytail. Her head was in that round, chinless, “gumdrop” shape. Her girth was so massive that the sweat pants she wore were about to burst. I assumed that this was the knife-wielding girlfriend. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but actions speak louder than words. The second the cops confronted her, she went berserk! She struck the Senior Officer in the face! He raised up an arm to block her, and then grabbed her flabby, flailing arm. The officer standing behind quickly grabbed her arms, and then cuffed her. 

I smiled for joy when I saw that. Not only did I see the thief getting cuffed, I also saw his girlfriend go down. What made this even better was that the vehicle they drove was presumably stolen! As the cops searched their car, they found what appeared to be a stolen license plate. Minutes later, a tow truck arrived to impound their car. The third person that was with them, a young Caucasian male, was left stranded in the parking lot. He stood there, with his tool box, jumper cables, and bungee cords lined up in a vacant parking spot. Eventually, as the sun set, and the temps dropped, someone came and picked him up. I’m not sure why he wasn’t arrested as well.  

Yes, as the old Klingon proverb says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” 

And it was very cold in Pennsylvania that day. It was about twenty-degrees Fahrenheit. 

I couldn’t stop smiling after I saw both thieves hauled away. 

I talked with Roy that afternoon, and he said, “This might be the best Phantom story ever.” 

Tom called, and asked if I was ok. To which I replied, “Yeah, I’m cool.” 

I had such a rush of elation running through my veins. In that moment, justice felt better than sex…well, partly better than sex. You had to be there to feel it (just like sex). 

That afternoon, I thought to myself, “Thank God for tough cops…and stupid criminals.” 

What are the odds that the same son of a bitch that stole from me would also be caught by me? 

While the Sin City figures have yet to surface, I did get the comic books back. I felt the satisfaction of both vengeance, and justice that day; two themes common in comic books and genre literature.   

Copyright Riley Joyce 2014. 

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