P.I.A.

Pilferers International Association

Seb looked around the room. It was a drab, grey, rectangular box without windows. The only light was from a single bulb dangling on a frayed wire from a twelve-foot-high ceiling. Two men sat opposite him—an old fat one, a guy with a moustache, the good cop! And a tall, young, skinny one—the bad cop! He’d worked that much out already.

“The sooner you answer our questions, the quicker you can get out of here,” Fatty said.

“Only if you tell us the truth,” his fractious partner quickly added. “We need the truth.”

“So, tell us, Seb, what do you know about P.I.A.?”

“Never heard of it,” he answered, crossing his arms, leaning back on his rickety wooden chair. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Skinny suddenly slammed his fists down on the wooden table, which was wearing a ‘70s Formica top. Three glasses of water jumped and spilt in protest. The tape recorder bounced up and down.

“Liar!”

“It’s the truth—I’ve got no idea what, or who, P.I.A. is.”

“We know you’re lying, Seb,” Fatty said in a soft tone. “Just tell us the truth. Things will go a lot easier if you do.”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“What if I mention the name Marty Spinks?” Skinny asked. “That ring any bells for you, Quasimodo?”

“No.”

“Are you sure? Think about it carefully before your next answer.”

“No, I don’t think I do.”

Skinny stood up, turned, kicked the wall and then the door. He screamed, “He’s your cousin, thickhead! He’s your effing cousin!”

“Oh, Marty . . . that Marty, oh yes, I know him . . . but I didn’t know that was his last name. I just know him as Marty.”

Skinny swung around and grabbed his chair, moving it to sit right next to Seb. He leant in closer; now, only a few centimetres separated their faces.

“Don’t muck me around, okay? I know more about you than your mother does—so don’t lie to me again.”

Seb gulped.

“So, I’ll ask you again, what do you know about P.I.A.?”

“Look, I can’t tell you that, they’ll find me, then it will be the end. No more dreams, no more anything. My life will be a bloody nightmare.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Skinny lit a cigarette, blew smoke in Seb’s face.

“Look,” interrupted Fatty, “just answer the questions. We might be able to protect you, but you must cooperate . . . okay?”

“Okay, okay, I’ll tell you what I know. P.I.A. stands for Pilferers International Association. My cousin Marty works for them.”

Skinny leant back in his chair, rested his hands behind his head. “Now we’re starting to get somewhere! So tell me, what does P.I.A. do?”

 “They steal things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Well, anything really. Socks, pens, keys.”

“Is that all? It doesn’t sound like much.”

 Seb eyed Skinny with disdain and shrugged his shoulders.

“Answer the question,” Skinny bellowed.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know.”

“Yes, you do—answer the bloody question before I get really mad.”

“Okay, okay. Yes, they steal other things—phones, wallets, that sort of stuff.”

“So, it’s the stuff people think they’ve lost?” Fatty asked. “Things they’ve just put down. The old, now where did I put my car keys, where’s my pen gone, routine?”

Seb hung his head; he nodded.

“Very clever . . . very clever indeed.”

Silence filled the intimidating space, making it seem more sinister.

“Let’s change tact, shall we?” Skinny suggested. “Tell us about your thieving career. Now, don’t be shy; we know more than you might think.”

Skinny picked up his chair, walked back to sit behind the desk alongside Fatty. He opened a soggy manilla folder.

“Well, I’ve always been a thief. It started out with milk money, yeah milk money and my brother’s pocket money. Then when I was older, Mum’s purse, Gran’s loose change vase, that sort of thing. I guess that’s the way most people start. Then I started stealing stuff from school. Graduated to wallets, bikes, and then cars.”

“My, my—aren’t you a regular Ronnie Biggs, then.”

“Hardly,” Seb coughed.

Skinny looked up. “Anything else to add to your cornucopia of crimes?”

“No, that’s all. I’m telling the truth.”

“Tell me then, with a long history of offending, why haven’t you been caught? Fallen foul of the law before?”

“Because I’m good. No, I’m better than good; I’m the best! I’m too fast, too clever. I get in and out before people know. I’m the original robbers’ dog, but with two feet and no tail! I’m the emperor of opportunity!”

“You might be good, but you’re also an arrogant S.O.B,” Skinny spat.  

Fatty interrupted, “Tell me more about your cousin Marty. The one you conveniently forgot about a few minutes ago.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“Tell me about his involvement with P.I.A.”

“As far as I know, he was scouted by P.I.A. when he was thirteen. Marty tells me the only way you can get into P.I.A. is through recommendation from someone you know who works there, or through scouting. When you join P.I.A., you don’t start pilfering straight away. You have to work in the sorting depots, then work your way up. Marty started in socks.”

“Socks?” 

“Yeah, socks; you know when you do your laundry, and you lose a sock. It happens all the time, right? Well, you know all those odd socks you have at home; did you ever wonder where their other half went? I’m sure you have. I’m sure everyone has. Well, I can tell you—they get pilfered, either from your laundry basket, the washing machine, or the line. Then they go to a P.I.A. warehouse. They get sorted into colours and fabrics. That was Marty’s job. After that, they get broken down, ‘unweaved,’ they call it, then sold to Carpet Factories. It’s a right squiz.”

“Is Marty still working in socks?”

“No, he was good at his job. He got promoted to other depots. First to pens, then to keys, but now he’s a qualified pilferer. An agent at large, seizing every opportunity he sees. He gets in, he gets out; lightning-fast, he is. In fact, all the agents are. Not one of them has ever been caught. That’s the story of P.I.A.’s success. No one knows they even exist. People think they’ve just lost, left, or forgotten stuff, when in reality, it’s been pilfered. P.I.A. makes millions.”     

“It sounds well organised,” Fatty mused.

Seb nodded. “It’s a real racket. A few years ago, P.I.A. started joint ventures with insurance companies. Have you ever wondered why your Personal Effects and Contents premiums were so expensive? They’ve even started selling pens on Alibaba and eBay.”

“For a secret organisation, you seem to know a lot about them. Why?”

“Well, when I was younger, I wanted to be an agent at large. It’s every light-fingered kid’s dream. I’d badger Marty at family get-togethers, ask him about his job. For many years he told me he couldn’t say anything, but eventually, I wore him down.”

“You said, ‘when you were younger.’ What about now—do you want to be an agent?”

“Look, mister, there’s plenty of worse jobs out there. I mean, I could work in a bank, or in recruitment! Like everyone else, I just want to get by. I want a job I’m good at, where I can use my talents.”

“So, you would, then,” Skinny drilled.

“Yeah, I would,” Seb replied, fearing he’d just sealed his fate.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Skinny said. “You can go now.”

“What? Is that it?”

Fatty smiled and waved him away. “Go now, before he changes his mind!”

Seb took his leave as quickly as he could.

“What do you think?” Skinny asked his colleague after Seb had left.

“I think we need to get Marty Spinks in here as quickly as possible.”

“Agreed; I’ll get the boys to go and round him up.”

“Before you do that,” Fatty replied, “what did you think of Seb?”

“I think he’s an amazing thief, probably one of the best around, but he’s got a big mouth.”

“No good for us, then.”

“No—no good for us. Too much risk he’d blabber his head off if he ever got caught.”

“Shame. What time is the next interview?”

“Now.” 

“Right, better get Staci to send in the next recommendation. The Sock Depot is screaming out for staff—the sooner we recruit, the better.”

Skinny burst into spontaneous laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“Have a look at the desk; you notice anything missing?”

Fatty looked down, and a smile danced across his face. “Bloody cheeky beggar! What a damn shame.”

Seb smiled as he strutted downtown. Dwayne the Fence was looking for tape recorders, and the one under his jacket was a beauty.   

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