I did a recent read-through of the latest edition of The Lineup, the poetry collection edited by Gerald So and Reed Farrel Coleman, among others.
The poems range from the violent to the simplistic, a pair of burglaries and Ken Bruen’s elegy for a petty thief.
One passage, however, struck me as I started to read, this one from Michael Casey’s “mitrailleur”:
maybe the crack security team
would stop him
he were entering the building that way
The poem tells of a man who sneaks what he steals out of the plant where he works. The narrator wonders if people saw him going in the way he came up, if he’d have been busted.
When crime succeeds, it’s usually because of perception. When it fails, it’s because the perpetrator does not think through the consequences. He doesn’t consider the evidence he leaves behind. He commits the crime, especially violent crime, in a moment of passion. Con artists depend heavily on perception and misdirection fleece their victims.
The best example of this in fiction is in Goodfellas. When most mob wives are confronted with search warrants, they are abusive to the federal agents and police officers, which, ironically, is a big red flag that they’re hiding something. Lorraine Bracco welcomes them, makes them coffee, and asks if they need anything while they do their jobs. Ray Liotta comes home to an intact house and endures fewer prying eyes from the feds for the better part of the movie.
In the real world, despite being written about extensively and under the watchful eyes of the FBI, crime boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante walked around New York City in his bathrobe having conversations with trees and fire hydrants. Mob journalists knew Gigante was the godfather. The feds knew. The jury only knew that this elderly Italian man as an addle-brained ex-boxer suffering from dementia.
Criminals succeed when they know how to manage their smoke and mirrors. Of course, the downfall comes when someone can penetrate the smoke and mirrors.
But then that’s the drama we all love to watch unfold, isn’t it?