Stoop, the Thief
Part One: Stoop and Clyde
Doctors were not sure what Martha Jones was on when she broke water in the emergency room of St. Elizabeth’s, but all agree that she was higher than a kite and just barely lucid. A nurse got her name and got her onto a gurney, but she had dilated by the time an attending physician got to her side with an intern in his wake.
“Did you see the game last night?” Martha heard the intern ask. She wasn’t sure whether he was speaking to her, but the attending physician answered.
“Stupendous,” he said from somewhere beneath her gown and between her legs.
“Dr. J, man. He could not be stopped.”
“Well, you don’t think they call him Doctor because he’s an MD, do you?”
Martha was sure the attending had at least one hand inside of her when he made that comment. The intern moved toward her lower end to observe what his master was doing.
“I think he’s the greatest I’ve ever seen,” the intern said, taking a nervous peek.
“I said it already. He is the greatest. He is stu-pen-dous. Here comes the head. Stupendous. See, at this point we try to turn the baby. It’s not really difficult, and if you get a little squeamish, you can just use fauceps.”
“I’m not squeamish,” the intern protested, then he put his hands where those of the attending physician had been and completed turning the child.
Between orders that she should push and medical jargon, Martha Jones heard much more about the Sixers’ star player, and the general impression stayed with her the next day when a nurse visited her in the morning in the room where she was recuperating along with several other destitute mothers.
“And how are you today?” the nurse asked.
“Why you going to be all in my business, bitch?” Martha was not in good spirits having failed to score a hit within the last twenty hours. She squinted in the general direction of the nurse.
“I brought your baby. A bouncing baby boy.” The nurse was in no better mood than Martha was, but she smiled as she put the child in its mother’s arms, knowing that Martha’s troubles were only then beginning.
Martha scowled at the boy, but he was asleep and heedless.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Martha asked, softening just a bit.
“You’re supposed to care for it for the next eighteen years,” the nurse replied; she wasn’t about to soften.
Martha looked at the tiny bundle in her arms.
“What’s his name?”
“You have to name it.”
“You know, Charles, Francis, Zebulon… You need to give it a name. I’ll go get the forms.”
The nurse went out, and the new mother looked again at her child’s face. She stroked his cheek with her pinky, but he moved in reaction to her touch, so she stopped, not wanting to be a nuisance. In a minute she tried again, not able to resist the impulse. When the nurse returned, Martha was stroking the boy’s head and smiling a hazy-eyed smile into the child’s sleeping face.
“He’s Stupendous,” Martha said.
“Yes, I’m sure he’s great…”
“No, no. That’s his name, lady. Stupendous Jones.”
“You can’t call him that. Stupendous is a word, not a name.”
“What you saying?” “Stupendous is a word,” the nurse said slowly.
Martha looked at the nurse’s nametag. It hung crookedly on her left breast.
“Your name is Grace. I seem to remember that was a word too. It means ‘style,’ like ‘That lady’s got grace.’ It means, ‘That lady’s got style,’ though why they called your sorry ass that, I’ll never know.”
The nurse had nothing else to say to save the child from being named with such an easily make-funnable name. She helped Martha spell Stupendous, pointed to all those places where Martha had to sign, and took a last look at smiling mother and oblivious child. When she returned a half-hour later, Martha had taken her clothes, and Stupendous Jones was left on the hospital bed between two pillows, yawning with innocence and hunger.
This is how Stoop the thief entered the world.
After several days of hospital care during which the medical staff had decided he had been born free of addictions, it was determined that something had to be done with Stupendous. He may not have been addicted to anything (he slept far too normally for that) but there was no telling what problems he might develop in the not distant enough future. As one wise hospital official put it, “We can’t get ourselves caught up in caring for this unfortunate child. There are institutions for that, and this isn’t one of them.”
In attempting to locate his mother or any other family member, the police and child welfare workers found that the most unfortunate thing about the child was his last name. “Who isn’t a Jones in this town,” more than one investigator was heard to say.
Just as hospital staff was meeting with a representative of the child welfare services (they were trying to explain that Stupendous had nothing wrong with him medically and so was no longer their concern) the search for Stupendous’ guardian came to an abrupt end. A man came to visit Martha, asking for her at the reception desk.
Martha had, of course, not been heard from since she walked away from the hospital, but the receptionist was no fool, and never let on that this was the case. Instead, she handed the man off to a hospital administrator who rushed down to meet the visitor.
With one question, the administrator found that the man, one Clyde Jones, was Martha’s uncle. A second question showed Clyde was the closest living relative Stupendous had (not counting his mother). And a third question as to who the father was thought to be brought forth only a broad smile and a shuffling of feet which convinced the administrator that he was looking at the father. He chose, however, to take the evasion as a sign that the father was not likely to be found. It was after these discoveries had been made and after Clyde Jones had begun thinking he might need to sue the hospital and win millions as righteous compensation for their having killed the only relative he had in the world, that the administrator set the record straight.
“Martha can’t be found,” the administrator said. “You don’t happen to know where she might be, do you? No? I didn’t think so. Anyway…”
The administrator went on to explain how Clyde had become responsible for the child, and he showed the bewildered man where to sign and where to initial and at the end of the paperwork, he walked Clyde up to the maternity ward.
In all of this, Clyde was unable to form a single question that would have helped him understand the troubles he was taking on. He just nodded and agreed; he said no when he thought that was what the administrator wanted to hear. Twice he asked the administrator to “run that by” him again. The administrator was happy to add more words to the torrent that had swept Clyde’s faculties away, and Clyde learned that asking for clarification was not going to be of help as a strategy for getting out of the mess he felt, but did not fully understand, he was in.
Life with Clyde was filled with adventures for Stupendous. Clyde went through several difficulties with law enforcement officials – he called these “scrapes,” – and Stupendous was often enough left in the care of Clyde’s less reputable friends or, occasionally, in his own care, even when he was just learning how to walk and talk. Clyde would tell Stupendous, “I gots to let you go ROR, okay little man?” releasing Stupendous on recognizance.
“It’ll just be a night or two. I’m leaving you two bottles of milk in this here ice cooler; shut the lid so the ice don’t melt.”
Clyde would show the boy the red ice cooler filled with ice. He knew Stupendous could open it since he sometimes asked the boy to fetch him beers from the cooler when they were at parks together though that wasn’t often.
“Maybe someone’ll look in on you,” Clyde would say, but no one ever did.
It was during Stupendous’ toddling years that Clyde first began to make use of him in filching small items. He would hide canned goods in the boy’s stroller in stores and had him distract women as he picked into their unguarded purses. Stupendous was not a thief yet – Clyde was thieving; Stupendous was just his little helper.
Thieving began in earnest for Stupendous Jones some time after his seventh birthday. There was a party in the apartment to celebrate the occasion. The boy was sent to bed early, and Clyde and his friends drank and danced the rest of the night away. In the early morning they left en masse to continue the celebration elsewhere. Several days later, Clyde returned easily disturbed by loud noises and bright lights but with no apology for Stupendous. As Stupendous already well understood, they weren’t married and their relationship was just not the sort where one apologizes where there is not a visible harm – as Clyde used to say on the basketball courts he sometimes frequented, “No blood, no foul.”
A few days after Clyde’s return and a few days before Christmas, Clyde left five ten-dollar bills and several singles on the nightstand Stupendous had next to his bed along with a short note. “You ROR, little man,” The note said. “I’ll be back.” But Stoop didn’t even think to wait for him.
I don’t have to mention that Stoop survived this abandonment. Of course, he couldn’t pay the rent; when, after a month or two of arrears the landlord pounded on the door and demanded to see Clyde, Stoop told the truth: “Clyde’s out.” The landlord threatened to come back in a week with eviction papers, but he never did. The neighbors said rent was free for the whole building from then until forever – the landlord had run off to Europe evading questions about his relationship with a neighborhood girl.
When Stoop’s electricity was shut off without ceremony though with several warning letters, one of Clyde’s old friends, needing a place to stay for a day or two rigged a connection to a city lamppost. This same friend, needing a place to stay on several other occasions also twice played the role of Clyde at parent/teacher meetings.
There is also no need to go into the fact that Stoop quickly figured out that the only way he would be able to afford new clothes was if he took them off clotheslines in the neighborhood. He learned to range far throughout the city in search of clothes after Johnny Graves pointed out to his mother that Stoop was wearing the T-shirt Johnny had gotten for his birthday complete with Johnny’s picture on the front and his name on the back. Johnny’s mother was livid and pulled the shirt off Stoop and the pants as well which had also gone missing from the line. Stoop was left on the street in Spiderman Underoos, and he had to run two blocks home before their rightful owner saw him and reclaimed them.
About Stoop’s school life, not much needs to be said there either. The cruelty of children is legendary, and, with a name like Stupendous, it did not take long for this cruelty to show. Stoop was always slow to respond to the name-calling, however, and this made it a less entertaining pass-time for bullies.
It was in the winter of Stoop’s fifth grade that Clyde returned. He hid beneath some stairs waiting for the boy to return from school. It was beginning to grow dark by the time Stoop clambered up the stairs. He had stopped at several stores to pick up some food along the way. Clyde scared him as he appeared from the shadows and followed him. He looked worse for wear – bleeding and with handcuffs that held his hands behind his back.
“Hurry up with that door, little man.”
Clyde hurried into the apartment, and Stoop knew enough to draw the shades without having to be told.
“What happened to you?”
“Detective Cooper happened to me, little man. You don’t want no Detective Cooper in your life, let me tell you that right now.”
“What he’d do to you?” Stoop asked, and Clyde answered.
“He put me in these here handcuffs, he put me in his car, and he drove me out to that empty lot on Hershey Street, near the bridge and hell’s away from anything else. He was supposed to be taking me to the precinct; when he pulled up there, I knew I was a dead man, so when he pulled me out of the car, I gave him a kick in that gut of his and ran, little man. He popped a couple of rounds and got me in the hip. It just grazed me but it’s killing me every step I take.”
Stoop picked the handcuffs open, and Clyde bathed and dressed his own wound while Stoop put together a Chef-Boy-Ardee meal for the two of them. They watched TV and ate in silence.
“Why is this Cooper after you, Clyde?” Stoop asked as he washed the dishes.
“We work together, but he’s crooked. He’s making me the fall guy.”
“You didn’t do anything to piss him off?”
“Yeah, I done something. I didn’t die when he shot me. Look little man, there ain’t nothing you can do to help me out. He’s gonna find me, and he ain’t gonna miss again, I’ll tell you that much about him.”
“Where is he now?”
“Who? Cooper? Cooper’s supposed to be staking out Little Joey’s place on Neill Street. I don’t know if you know about that place. Anyway, we both work for Little Joey. I deliver the goods, Cooper’s on the lookout. If any real cops are gonna come, Cooper lets Little Joey know about it. Cooper shook me down, man. I was carrying a full kilo; Cooper put a gun in my face and took it right from me. Now I’m supposed to get Little Joey payment for the kilo I supposedly delivered, that’s how it works – I deliver the goods and bring back the money. By now, Cooper done told Little Joey that I went off with the goods. That means I got two guys looking to kill me. If I could get Cooper off my back, I could talk with Joey. He knows a crooked cop is just that, crooked. He’d be awright. It’d be cool. But Cooper, he ain’t getting off my back no time soon.”
Stoop thought for a while. Then he told Clyde to rest assured and started to put on his hat and coat.
“Where you going little man?”
“Detective Cooper works out of what precinct?” Stoop asked.
“And you’re pretty sure he’s in front of Little Joey’s?”
“That’s where he’s supposed to be. The cops are gonna raid the place tomorrow night. He’s supposed to be there from eight tonight until eight in the morning. Why? What you thinking about doing?”
Stoop wanted to share his plan with Clyde, but he couldn’t. He wanted to say he was going to get Clyde out of this scrape no matter what the risks – “blood is thicker than water,” came to mind, but he wasn’t sure Clyde was blood, and he knew Clyde would object to any plan besides running away. He wanted to touch Clyde and say he would take care of him, that he loved him if he loved anyone in the world. But Stoop had never talked about love, and this didn’t seem like the right time to start.
“I’m just gonna take a look at the man, Clyde. You want me to know him if he shows up in this part of town, don’t you?” Stoop said.
“Alright, but don’t get mixed up with him. He’ll kill a little man just like he’d kill a big one, you understand?”
Stoop, of course, was hardly interested in just looking at Cooper. He walked over an hour to the corner where the detective was sitting stakeout. In that neighborhood, detectives stood out like sore thumbs and children half Stoop’s age could pick them out at a glance.
Stoop watched Detective Cooper and his partner sitting in their car for a few minutes, then he packed a snowball in his mittened hands, put the snowball in one coat pocket and his mittens in another, and, with his nimble fingers free, walked over to the car. He was certain Cooper was the older man in the driver’s seat so he approached the other side.
“Excuse me sir. Is one of you Detective Cooper from the twelfth precinct?”
“Go away kid,” the passenger said. “We’re not cops.”
“Right. Okay. I got a message for Detective Cooper. It’s from a guy named Clyde.”
The driver, Detective Cooper, flinched and gave his partner a quick look. He recovered just as his partner turned to him to ask what he wanted to do with the kid.
“I’ll handle this,” Detective Cooper told his partner. “Come with me, kid.” He motioned to Stoop as he got out of the car.
Cooper went around the corner; Stoop followed. As soon as they were out of sight of his partner and mostly hidden by a garbage dumpster, Cooper grabbed Stoop by the collar with both hands. He lifted Stoop off the ground to look him in the eye. Stoop was thin even for a twelve year old, so this took no great energy from Cooper who was a large man. He gave Stoop a violent shake or two with his excess muscle.
“You tell me where that bastard is, boy, or I’ll kill you and put you in this here garbage can.”
“I don’t know where this guy is, mister. He told me to wait an hour. He was hurt bad. I think he was going to a hospital, but I don’t know him, mister, please.”
Stoop had often been reduced to begging in his few years and was convincing. Cooper put him down and patted his head roughly as though he wasn’t used to the idea of interacting with children.
“Okay kid, okay. Calm down. Just give me the message.”
“He said to give you this.”
Stoop threw the snowball he had packed straight between Cooper’s eyes. The detective staggered back a step or two and reached for the boy, but Stoop was gone, running at full speed uphill and away. Cooper took a step or two in chase, but he knew he would never catch the boy so he wiped his face carefully and returned to the car with as much calm as he could pull together.
“What was all that about?” Cooper’s partner asked.
“I owe this guy Clyde a little money. He sent the kid to ask for it.”
“This Clyde giving you trouble?” “Nah, it’s just a little debt I gotta pay. Gambling, you know, cards.”
“Oh. You shoulda told me you can’t play cards; I’da brought a deck with me.”
At about six thirty the next morning, Stoop walked past the stakeout car on Neill Street. Both officers were bleary eyed and neither noticed him. He walked into the twelfth precinct, his bookbag slung over both shoulders and hanging low down his back. It took a while for the desk sergeant to take note of him.
“What do you want?”
“You guys still give cash for guns?” Stoop asked.
The sergeant sat up straight.
“Look,” Stoop said. “Do you give guys give cash for guns or not? I have to get on a schoolbus soon, and I need to know.”
“Yeah, umm. Let me get the guy in charge.”
The sergeant dialed an extension and mumbled something Stoop couldn’t catch and a few seconds later a lieutenant made his way down the precinct stairs and stood at Stoop’s side.
“Are you the young man with the gun?” the lieutenant asked, putting his hand on Stoop’s shoulder.
“Are you the man with a hundred dollars?”
The lieutenant was, in fact, the man who would pay Stoop if he turned in a gun. But even though the program was supposed to be anonymous, no questions asked, the officer wanted to engage Stoop in conversation to learn something of the gun and the boy if possible.
“What’s your name son?”
“Look, if you’re gonna be asking me questions, I’ll go to another precinct…”
“Okay, okay. Look, ah, let me think. You have a gun for us, right?”
“I know where there is one.”
“Well, I need to see it, kid.”
“I need to see the money.”
The lieutenant clucked his tongue and rolled his eyes, but none of that was going to make Stoop move, so he turned to the sergeant and had him bring a small cash box and a triplicate form.
“I’m not filling out no forms,” Stoop said.
“The form’s for me.” The lieutenant opened the cash box and showed Stoop a crisp hundred dollar bill. “Okay, kid. Where’s the gun?”
Stoop took off his bookbag, unzipped it and pulled out what the sergeant and the lieutenant instantly recognized as a department issue .9mm semiautomatic, the kind the department had only recently switched to. Still, both officers knew they might easily be wrong. Smith and Wesson makes a lot of guns, and certainly there were thousands of that model in private hands. Maybe millions.
Stoop handed the gun to the lieutenant and snatched the hundred-dollar bill.
The lieutenant checked the gun though it didn’t have to be in working condition for Stoop to claim his money. It was loaded. He sniffed the barrel and knew it had been fired recently. Stoop folded the bill into his pocket and started to walk away.
“Hey, kid. Where’d you find this?”
“The empty lot on Hershey Street, near the bridge. Oh yeah, I found this stuff too.”
He reached into his bag and took out a leather badge holder, complete with badge and nametag, and a pair of handcuffs with a smear of blood. He handed them to the lieutenant, closed his bag and zipped it shut. He slung it back over both shoulders.
“There’s a lot of blood in that lot. You should see if that Cooper guy is still alive.”
“What were you doing in the lot, kid?”
“Me? I was just out for a walk. I guess something happened last night, but I don’t know nothing about that. I was in bed by nine. Like I said, check that Cooper guy. He might be dead.”
“Out for a walk?” the lieutenant said. “That lot’s five miles from here.”
Stoop shrugged and headed for the door.
“You want a ride to school?” The lieutenant asked, but Stoop was no fool.
“I got a hundred dollars, mister; I can get my own ride.”
“Get Cooper on the radio,” Stoop heard the Lieutenant say as he went out the door. “And get Vincent and Johnson out to the lot on Hershey. Send a couple of units out with them.”
Stoop waved to the detectives as they drove past him coming in to the precinct. They didn’t notice him. Cooper had a look of worry on his face which the rest of the day would prove was completely appropriate.