Malcolm and the Burglar: Journalists, Criminals and the Art of Saying Too Much


“Okay, so this is an interesting phenomenon, you pushing in my door and jabbing a gun in my stomach. Statistically, this is a safe neighborhood, and the likelihood of my being hurt in a burglary attempt is significantly less than the chance that I will be hurt in a traditional household mishap such as falling down the—

“Sure, yes, I understand you could actually throw me down the stairs if I don’t shut up. That is an effective coercive technique because, as I wrote in my latest book, the thought of something happening is often much worse than the thing itself. I imagine myself in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, dead from a broken neck, but it is much more likely that I would emerge relatively unscathed with little more than cuts and—

“Wow, Hollywood really downplays the effect of being smacked in the face with a gun, doesn’t it? The hero typically pops back up, emboldened, ready to fight, but I must say, I am dazed and find it hard to speak. We know this, right? That being hit in the face by a metal object with both blunt and sharp characteristics that is being swung with considerable velocity is going to hurt, but we have been conditioned to—

“Ow! All right. I get it. You don’t want me to talk anymore. Nevertheless, how can I tell you where my valuables are if I can’t speak? That doesn’t make sense. Your actions are counter intuitive because you are letting emotion guide you. And yet, sometimes it is best to follow your gut even when that instinct flies in the face of convention. As I wrote in my second—

“Is that a rope? You’re looking for a straight-back chair, right? Dining room, off to the right. You know, my dining room is to the right of the kitchen, whereas Martha Stewart’s is to the left. I attended a dinner party there once. Do you suppose we instinctively seek dining room placement that corresponds to the side of the brain that dominates when we cook? I’m clearly right-brained in the kitchen, whereas Martha is more strategic—

“Of course I’ll sit down. I mean, you have the gun, right? That is interesting, because most home invasions don’t involve firearms, and in those that do, the perpetrator is just as likely to be shot as—

“Ouch! That is a very tight knot, well tied. You clearly have mastered the skills necessary to be a successful burglar. Did you have mentor, or is there some sort of apprenticeship? Informally in your case, of course. If you don’t mind my asking, how long have you been doing this? I would guess at least ten thousand hours, because that is the point at which you really start to—

“Wow, still hurts to be hit in the mouth with a gun! Corroborative evidence certainly is effective when conducting research, but I think we can safely say that further analysis is unnecessary at this point. Still, after three times, I’m now dreading it more than I would have thought. Sure, I survived each of the first three and therefore ought to be less fearful of the fourth blow, but your accuracy is uncanny and that spot is really—

“You really can stop doing that now, okay? I should be inclined to tell you where to look for valuables so this concludes before I suffer more, but I must say I find this to be irresistible, a front-row seat for a live show in our socio-economic circus. Oh wow, that’s good. ‘Socio-Economic Circus.’ Not a book title, of course, but part of a subtitle in the least. And to experience something firsthand instead of simply regurgitating anecdotes from other books? This could launch me from the bestseller list to prize-land! A book about crime. It’s perfect! Maybe I’ll even call it ‘Crime.’ I could recycle that ‘broken windows’ stuff from ‘The Tipping Point,’ and include some stuff about Wall Street to keep it topical. Not sure how to work in the Martha Stewart stuff. Could you bring me my Dictaphone? This is—

“Hey, where are you going? Don’t leave! You didn’t even take anything yet… we have so much to talk about!”

~ fin ~

John Kenyon is an Iowa City-based writer and editor. His short story collection, The First Cut, is available from Snubnose Press. He also edits the crime fiction magazine Grift, and its website at He has published widely, including Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Pulp Modern and elsewhere.