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The Mercury Bandit by Mark Anthony Given



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Only he who can see the invisible can do the impossible. -Frank Gaines
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          WHEN I HAD a couple hundred dollar a day habit in New Orleans back in the eighties there used to be this place in Gentilly called the "Ice House", that sold ice and cashed checks in a tiny neighborhood bar in the back. Right in the front on busy Chef Menteur Highway, across from the New Orleans Baptist Seminary, you would step up to a giant two inches thick bulletproof glass and if everything was in order, he would point to a lipstick camera and tell you to look right into the camera with your ID under your chin, like a mug shot. That was their deterrent, the camera. In fact, as you stood there waiting for them to do whatever they did to verify the check, It was always right after five in the afternoon. You could see people's photographs standing right where you were standing and it was a perfect face shot, and could even see cars blowing by in the background. It's kinda hard to outrun a photograph of you in the commission of the crime... but I did. 
         MY CONNECTION was a high school friend of my girlfriend and we were all in our late twenties. One day at her house on Franklin Avenue near St. Roch Park where it doesn't look like many white people are there but they are. They only come out in broad daylight in numbers. Anyway, she shows me this small stack of commercial bank checks from a famous hotel in the French Quarter. They looked brand new. Four or five on a sheet, maybe eight or nine pages. She told me one of her other hope feigns was a night cleaning lady and tore them out the bottom of a whole notebook full of them. I knew instantly they may never miss them checks but they're damn sure gonna miss the money out of their bank account. That's where the Mercury Man comes in....     
         YOUR PROBABLY not going to believe this and I'm sure you probably never heard of this, but one of merry band of miscreants mentioned that, if you take a simple household baby thermometer, and place it over your ear like a cigarette, cover it with your hair or a baseball cap on, your face cannot be photographed. The mercury at the end blurs out your entire face; and does it ever.  
          EVERYBODY KNOWS someone from high school who died from some freak accident or another. Someone knew exactly who I was talking about and told me of a guy who died in a diving accident at Thunderbird Beach out on Lake Pontchartrain or somewhere. If you are born and raised in New Orleans you can walk right down to City Hall, wait in line for twenty minutes and for a couple of dollars get a brand new copy of a man's Birth Certificate who's been dead for ten years or better. And exactly thirty or forty feet down the tarnished and abused marbled floors who long ago lost their shine and luster, an enterprising young man thereabouts the deceased's same age and eye color, after a few more lashes of the filthy lucre, fill out a simple form from the information on the Birth Certificate, and obtain a spanking new Great State of Louisiana Official Identification Card, duly authorizing the dearly deceased to roam about freely and criminalize at Will... 
         MY JUNKIE ONE MAN CRIME WAVE began with a phone call to the bank the pilfered checks came from. "Check verification please." They put me through, I give the account number and the amount and they say "Good at present," It's time to go to work.
          
          I HAD THE FUNKY FEET of a New York City chain snatcher and knew I could outrun probably most of them.   I always parked blocks away or I told the girl I was with; I am not going to run out and jump in the car and try to outrun Motorola.  I'm going to run right by the car, go a short distance and wait.  You circle the blocks until you hear me call for you or you see me.  I'm always going to head to the French Quarter, so you know I am between here and there...
    CIRCLE GROCERY a New Orleans institution had a hopping Check Cashing business on the side. First, check I busted I wrote for 1,476.83.  Just had a nice ring to it.  I stood right there while they called the bank and never batted an eye.
           I WANTED to feel bad about bouncing checks but I didn't.  Not even a little bit.  When the feds got me several years later for another one man coast to coast crime wave I have written about over and over, MY LAWYER SLAMMED the Indictment down on the table between us and said, "I hate banks!"  First thing out of his mouth.  I could see him reading it was for the first time in the Attorney Client room at the Mobile City Jail.  This was 1986 and I had just been extradited from upstate New York on a DUI traffic stop and a warrant from the Southern District of Alabama for six counts of federal bank fraud.  At that point, I had been in jail for exactly one month, and I knew I was probably in more trouble than I had ever been in before.

          BOUNCING CHECKS to me was the lesser of many evils, and usually the more money you steal the less time you do.  Think about it:  Would you rather I stick a gun in your face and frighten the fuck out of both of us or, whip out my big nineteen cent Bic Pen and straight up swindle you out of it?  A simple sleight of hand with everyday banking transactions was your last line of defense is a photograph of me in the commission of a felony.          
        DO YOU HAVE any idea how big a set of balls you have to have to walk into a bank and bounce a check on one of their own accounts?  You think Michael Caine or substitute any great actor and ask them to use their acting chops to march up in a busy banking institution, act like you're a legitimate customer and want to do the old switcheroo split deposit on them?  You know, where I deposit a handful of checks made out for "Rent," and "Deposit," drawn on different banks.; it looks like I am depositing monthly rental income, Except, on the deposit slip I got from the lobby, I deposit them and ask for a thousand dollars back.  It happens all the time and that's why when they almost never ask for identification.  ID to put money in your account?  That's where the ole 'slight of hand or the mental switcheroo happens.... again and again....
            AFTER I BURNED MY FINGERTIPS OFF with an old camp stove and a fifth a whiskey I had this baby thermometer with Mercury end right in front of my ear preventing my face from being photographed the One Man Crime Spree with a Bad Habit began.
                      If you love New Orleans she'll love you back. -Drew Brees

          BEING A SMALL TIME CRIMINAL in New Orleans in the nineteen-eighties I felt right at home. The entire state reeked of the kind of corruption that takes hundreds of years to set in. I literally thought of it as like when Jean La Fite came to the French Quarter to conduct his nefariousness deeds or the Little Big Man Carlos Marcello's Tomatoes on Decatur Street. The thick syrupy humid air and constant fog horns from the mighty Mississippi just blocks away from narrow door lined streets. Nothing but garage doors and metal entryways and brick walls up in the three hundred block. Some open to million dollar apartments and other to storage for a nearby department store across from an all night world famous rock and roll bar. The brittle clapping of horse hoof's on cobblestone streets lined with brick and ornate iron work homes or small business. At Canal and South Rampart a giant department store hides ancient housing projects that see's "The Quarter," as their back forty or personal fishing pond. Fake weed, fake coke or "Sucker Johns," where they lead them out of the bars and bolt back into their sewer holes. Young hot boys and girls try to blend into the tourist on the busy three to seven hundred blocks of Rue Royal or Dauphine Street, trying to fulfill some tourist from Michigan's one stop fantasy and millions of others every year from around the world and go back home and never talk about it again....ever. Or they're knocked out by the smell of hundreds of pots of red gravy or Tomato gravies on the boil and sex and drugs and one dollar cheap beer and never want to leave. It is every red blooded American loser and small time criminal like me's dream!
To be continued.


1:44:31 PM 12/18/2015
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Copyright 2016 by Mark Anthony Given 
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