The Thief at Christmas


Every Thanksgiving the Star-Ledger runs a calendar of community theater holiday shows.  There must be a dozen Handel’s Messiah sing-a-longs, just as many versions of The Nutcracker, plus the undisputed champ of holiday tearjerkers, A Christmas Carol.  These are the kind of shows that the whole family attends and in my line of work this means empty houses loaded with cash, gift cards, and brand new stuff that’s easy to fence.  Sure, you parents hide the stuff pretty well, but if your kids can find their presents, so can I.

What with your Cratchits and street urchins and all, A Christmas Carol uses a lot of kid actors.  Smart producers know that when you cast a kid, you sell seats to four grandparents, a slew of aunts, and maybe a few neighbors.  And a smart thief knows that the house with a kid actor will definitely be deserted when the curtain rises.  So I spend my December evenings checking out the productions and tailing parents back to their homes.  By Christmas Eve, which is like D-Day for  A Christmas Carol, I had lined up a half dozen expensive looking properties that were sure to be vacant until midnight if I know cast parties.

The first place belonged to Scrooge’s sister Fanny, a dainty little number who danced like a jackhammer and sang like one too.  It was with the greatest pleasure that I relieved her family of three cases of estate bottled Bordeaux and a pinochle deck of high end gift cards.  Next up, Turkey Boy- that’s the kid who Scrooge shouts to from the window after his night with the Spirits.  This adolescent must have been a wicked gamer because there were a dozen video games stacked up on a new gaming system.  I was doing Turkey Boy a favor since he obviously needed way less screen time.

Next I worked my way through the street urchins, who doubled as party guests at Old Fezziwig’s Christmas party. These urchins were living large.  I copped top of the line headphones, tablets, sweaters, and bikes that cost more than my overloaded van.  Best of all was a beribboned roll of fifties that some old school grandparent had tucked into a mantelpiece stocking.  For my personal use, I also took a caterers box loaded with a Christmas brunch for eight.

Last but not least was good old Tiny Tim.  She was a cute little kid – Tiny Tim is often played by a girl because as any Bob Cratchit will tell you, hoisting the average six-year old boy will put your chiropractor on speed dial.  Unlike the rest of the stage-struck brats, this kid was always happy.  By her perpetual smile, I figured she must have everything under the sun.

Actually, the house was practically empty and as cold as a tomb.  The family’s few possessions were all in just two rooms and the refrigerator was bare.  I shuffled through the mail on the kitchen table and saw notices of foreclosure, termination of unemployment benefits, and long overdue bills.  As a thief, I should have exited this wasteland posthaste, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the little tyke.  In a week or two, she and her parents would be homeless.  I was struck with a strange urge to help her.

I thought about the video games, the bikes, the clothes and realized none of that would do this little girl any good.  Where does a homeless kid set up their video console?  How many clothes can you have when it all has to fit into a backpack?  In the end, I could do nothing to change the path this poor kid would soon travel, but maybe I could give her a happy day.

From the van I took the food, a bottle of wine and the smallest sweater.  I arranged them on the kitchen table.  I folded the foreclosure notice around the roll of fifties and scrawled, “I see times are tough.  Hope this helps. God bless us everyone. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.”

~ fin ~

Conrad Person is a Philadelphia writer whose work is influenced by the steel towns of his youth. He believes that the darkest crimes are committed in the human heart.