A couple of months ago, a woman named Bianca emailed me from Germany. Could I write something around 700 words long for a New York guide book called 38 Hours? I could and I did, and they’ve just now sent me a copy of the book, with my effort printed, and with a terrific illustration on the page opposite. I wanted to give you a chance to read it—and, even better, to see the illustration, which you’ll be quick to see is an uncanny likeness of Our Favorite Felon. But it’s all too short and insignificant to sell you, so I figured I’d just print it here:

A Burglar’s Complaint

38 hours illoSo I took the subway to Union Square and walked a couple of blocks to a storefront on East Eleventh Street, where a tailless cat dozed in the window. Inside I found Bernie Rhodenbarr perched on a stool behind the counter, reading the latest Wallace Stroby novel.

“It’s about Crissa Stone,” my favorite bookseller announced. “A professional thief. Sort of like Richard Stark’s Parker, but without a Y chromosome. I’ll tell you, it makes me miss the old days.”

“When men were men?”

“When it was possible for an enterprising individual to make money the old-fashioned way.”

“By working for it?”

He shook his head. “By stealing it. And I’m not talking about computer crime and identity theft and all of that sneaky cyber-stuff. I mean leaving one’s own house and letting oneself into somebody else’s. I mean breaking and entering—and then exiting, richer than when you entered. I mean picking locks and jimmying doors and outfoxing doormen and elevator operators.”

“You mean burglary.”

“Once,” he said, “it was a profession. A morally reprehensible one, I’ll grant you, but one with a set of standards and a code of ethics and a steep learning curve, designed to separate the sheep from the goats, the ribbon from the clerks, and the fool from his money. And what is it now?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”

“A fool’s errand,” he said. “I have two trades, burglary and bookselling. That’s two sets of footprints in the sands of time, and I wouldn’t encourage any son of mine to follow in either of them.”

“You don’t have a son,” I pointed out.

“And a good thing,” he said, “because what kind of a role model would I be? Two careers, and both of them victims of the Twenty-first Century.”


“Nobody buys books anymore,” he said. “For that I blame technology, whether you call it ebooks or the Internet.”

“People still steal,” I said.

“And get caught, because you can’t walk a block without getting your picture taken half a dozen times. There are security cameras everywhere, up and down every street and inside of most large buildings. Do you know what I did last Thursday?”

“No idea.”

“Well, you would,” he said, “if you looked at the right tapes. I went to an address in the East Sixties, where a supermodel whose name you would recognize uses a dresser drawer for what ought to be in a safe-deposit box.”


“Her building’s a brownstone,” he said, “so there’s no doorman, no on-site security people. And she was in St. Croix, shooting a spread for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, so the house was empty.”

“Except for her jewelry.”

“And other valuables. I went there and I stood out in front of her building. I was close enough to see the lock on the front door, and I figured it would take me about thirty seconds to pick it. I waited while the sky darkened, and the programmed lights went on in some of the rooms.” He sighed. “I had a brown paper bag in my pocket.”

“To hold the loot?”

“To pull over my head. I’d already cut eye holes in the thing.”

“So the cameras wouldn’t trip you up.”

“But what good would it do? They’d check cameras on the street, and fiind images of me before I put the bag over my head. Or, even if I got out of a cab with my head already in the bag, there’d be footage from the day before, when I cased the site. So I walked home.”

“You walked?”

“Through Central Park. It’s a pleasant route, but there may have been security cameras in the trees, taking note of my presence. If so, there’s probably a picture of me taking the paper bag out of my pocket and dropping it in a trashcan.”

“At least you didn’t litter.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” he said. “Not these days, in this city.” In the window, his cat stretched and yawned. “Smile, Raffles,” he told it. “For the camera.”