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Clement's Corner: A Matter Of Understanding

Owen Clement's tale brings understanding of why one young one man turned to crime.

Kyle placed his toolbox in the back of the truck and sauntered back to the house to collect his payment. Carl was on the phone.

“...yes I will, I promise.'' Carl paused on seeing Kyle, “I’ll ring you back shortly... okay then, bye.''

He hung up and turned to Kyle. “All done?”

Kyle nodded.

“Take a seat,'' Carl invited tersely.

The older man’s stern expression alarmed Kyle. “I can’t stay I’m afraid, I’m late as it is.''

“This won’t take long...please!”

Carl indicated a chair opposite the dining table. Kyle sat on the edge of the chair.

Carl studied the young man before asking “Is there something you want to tell me?”

“Such as what?”

“You have been stealing $50 bills from the bottom drawer of my dresser.''

“I have not,'' Kyle interjected vehemently.

“Please Kyle, for your own sake let me finish as it would your best interest to hear me out.''

Kyle stood.

“Sit down,'' Carl insisted. “There is no point in denying it. I have proof.''

Kyle made as if to walk away. Carl stood up, his expression becoming even more grim and determined. Kyle sat.

“I’ve made a list of the serial numbers of every one of those notes. If I were to check your wallet now I’m sure I’d find at least one of them.”

“You’ve got no right to accuse me.”

“I’m not just accusing you. I’m stating a fact. Now, if you remember when I started I said that it would be in your best interest to hear me out...''

Again he waited. Kyle glared at him defiantly.

“I pride myself on being a good judge of character. You can’t imagine how disappointed I was when I found that I had misjudged you. When I arranged for you to work for me about six weeks ago, confident of your honesty, I left you to lock up while I visited my wife in the nursing home. Three weeks ago I took out the manila envelope in which I keep a bundle of $50 notes to add to it and to my dismay I noticed that they had been disturbed and then I discovered that one was missing. It only could have been you, as you were the only other person who had access to it. I thought that maybe you were short of cash and had merely borrowed it and had planned on replacing it on your next visit. Last week, when I saw that a $100 had also been taken I felt betrayed. It was an awful feeling. Do you know, I wept. I made a note of the numbers before putting them away once again exactly as I’d found them.

"I spoke to a lawyer friend of mine and we discussed what would be the best action to take rather than contact the police. He suggested that I speak to you and try and find out what had driven you to do such a thing. He also asked me about your background. I said that your father had deserted your mother when she was pregnant and refused to have an abortion. I met Lily, your mother, years ago when she had started working as a night cleaner at the bank where I worked. She’s worked very hard to give you the best chance in life, Kyle. I knew this before I employed you. Until recently I had not regretted my decision as your work has been exemplary. That is why I was so upset”.

“You should talk.''

“What does that mean?”

Kyle snorted, “Aren’t you accusing me of stealing money that is already stolen?”

“So that’s what you think. And that somehow justifies you taking it, is that it?”

Kyle sniggered. “So you don’t deny it?”

“I have been secretly putting that money away for years. It was to be a surprise for my wife to pay for air fares for us on our fortieth wedding anniversary to visit her ancestors’ country, Italy, something she had always wanted to do. When I realized that her time was limited, I employed you to fix up the place for sale so that we could travel first-class.”

“I was going to put it back,” Kyle said quietly.

“Kyle, please don’t insult my intelligence. You had no intention of returning it. I wouldn’t surprise me if you haven’t spent most of it already on grog or drugs.''

“I don’t do drugs.''

"I suppose you’ve been pinching stuff ever since you were a small lad. From your mother, your pals at school... and you have probably shoplifted many times with a couple of your like-minded friends. The tragedy is that you fail to take into account the consequences of being caught and sent to prison. Can you imagine what would happen to a young slim good-looking boy with long fair hair like you with all those sex-starved long-term prisoners trapped in there? You would be so brutalized that your whole life would be utterly ruined.”

“I don’t have to listen to this crap,'' Kyle said, about to stand up. He stopped when he saw that Carl’s eyes had filled with tears.

“There was a young man that I knew years ago who was only in his early twenties. I didn’t realize that he was into drugs and had also started dealing. He tragically ended up in prison. I tried visiting him but he refused to see me. A couple years later shortly after he was released I saw him cross the street. He was too far away for me to catch up to him. I was quite certain that he had seen me though. The change in him was dramatic. His hair was cropped close and he was heavily tattooed. Not long after that he was killed in a car accident. It was a sunny day with little traffic. He had gone off the road and crashed headlong into a tree. I was convinced that it was no accident. As you can see, not only would it ruin your life, it would also destroy your poor mother’s as well.''

“What’s she got to do with any of this?” Kyle said his eyes narrowed warily.

“That was her on the phone when you came in.”

“You bastard, you told her?”

Carl nodded, “She said that she’d guessed that you had been heading along that path for some time, but couldn’t do anything about it”.''

Kyle stood up angrily, “Where’s my money?”

Carl pointed to an envelope on the table. Kyle picked up the envelope, ripped it open, counted out $150, flung it on the table and was about to stride out when Carl said, “Before you run away, that young man I spoke about was your father.''

Kyle swung around, “You knew my father?”

Carl nodded. “He was my son, Robert.”

Kyle hesitated and then yelled at Carl, “My mother knew this and never said anything to me!”

Carl shook his head, “I don’t know that she does. You see Robert’s baby sister died when he was about twelve years old. A cot death the doctor said. My wife suffered terribly by this. Robert, who was trying to cope with his own grief, must have thought that his mother had wished that it was him rather than his baby sister. I too must have caused him to feel unwanted and abandoned as I spent much of my time trying to cope with my wife’s and my own grief; not realizing how awful it must have been for him. He ran wild and started taking drugs, which I didn’t know about at the time. And then when I found out that he had not only fathered Lily’s child but had abandoned her as well. I could not tell my wife as I am sure it would have killed her. It’s ironic don’t you think that the money you took was to be part of your inheritance.''

Kyle’s body slumped over as he tried to comprehend what he had just heard.

“I’m sorry son...''

Kyle glared at Carl and snapped, “Don’t call me son, and as far as the money goes, you can stick it.'' Without waiting for a response he turned and stalked out.


Carl did not hear from Kyle or his mother until the day of his wife’s funeral. He had not noticed Lily standing in the background. It was only when he was alone by the graveside that she came up and stood beside him.

“I’m sorry. I know how much you loved her.'' She took his hand, “I also guessed long ago that Robert was your son.''

Carl blinked then stared at her in amazement, “You did!”

“Robert had told me about his sister dying and how it had affected both his parents. And when I saw you at his funeral, I worked out who you were.”

“Why in God’s name didn’t ever you say anything to me? “

“I didn’t want you to dump my problems onto you. You and your wife had enough grief”.

Carl squeezed Lily’s hand, “How’s Kyle these days?”

“He’s finally growing up, thanks to you.''

“Don’t forget to tell him that he still has a job to complete”.

© Clement 2008


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