Sam hated stealing, but sometimes in life you have no choice but to go against everything you believe in you have been taught. The 'roaring twenties' were coming to an end and the city was in bad shape. The looming shadows of war had generated high expectation in everybody, and then had left them in bad shape. It was the beginning of an economic crisis that would soon get worse. His father was a good man, but when you have to take care of five children and a sickly wife, you just can’t make ends meet with a laborer’s meager wage. Sam hated the open sores on his father's palms, the exhaustion in his dull eyes and his sun-marked and sunburned face.
Obviously no one in the family knew about Sam's double life. His parents thought that their son, who had left school shortly after the year had begun, was working as a paperboy in Little Hope’s streets. Actually, that wasn’t a lie, at least initially. When he had to choose between an underpaid job at the Wendell sawmill or a one-way drop in the tunnels of the nearby coal mine, Sam had finally opted for newspapers. In those days, people were hungry for news and things went well, at least for some time. Then his mother got sick again and the medicines were incredibly expensive.
And so it was that Sam's criminal career began. His daily journey of deliveries led him through Little Hope’ wealthiest neighborhood, with its Victorian-mansions and huge blooming gardens. He had plenty of chances to survey the area, memorize the details and spot the best opportunities. The neighborhood’s policeman was Mr. Arthur, a fat unflappable, absentminded man. Sam could technically do whatever he wanted to do. Had he not been a sound boy in a desperate need, in time he could have made himself a name in the underworld. But he didn’t have much time.
In the spring of 1928, Sam began sneaking into the houses where he delivered newspapers almost every day. Thanks to his slim and agile body, sneaking into any house was a piece of cake. After all, in those days, few people in Little Hope used to lock their doors. None ever suspected that the boy wandering in the driveways with his load of newspapers and his cap lowered over his eyes was something more than 'the newspaper boy'. Sam acted swiftly: he grabbed what he could and then he was gone. In his mind, he always promised that sooner or later, once his mother was healed and things got better, he would compensate those people.
Sam went missing on April 20. As he was delivering the papers, he finally read something about himself. A short and lackluster article at the bottom of the page, hidden among the headlines about the recession and inflation rates, mentioned the rush of thefts that had been plaguing Little Hope in the last weeks, and added that the police were working on the case. Sam suddenly realized what he had gotten himself into, and that realization hit him like a truck. In his attempt to help his family, he had turned into a thief, a common burglar. And even if his ends were commendable, he knew very well they didn’t justify the means.
With the coming of spring, his mother's cough had receded. Maybe, with a little luck, her disease was finally regressing. Things were changing, and he would change too. Sam solemnly swore he would once again become the honest boy he had always been. Maybe he would go back to school as well, to make his dad happy.
He completed his deliveries as usual; he would do his job and then he would come home for lunch. Sam felt relieved, as if he had freed himself of a burden. He walked all the way back to Marple Street, the richest street in Little Hope, and at the end of the ride he was so happy that he was whistling, throwing his newspapers with such a precision trajectories that would have made Babe Ruth green with envy.
Then he saw the big house at number 36, with its imposing colonnade and its soaring tower, he noticed the curtains gently waving at the sweet April breeze: The window on the first floor was not closed.
Sam stopped, and he was suddenly tempted by one last, lucrative blow. For a moment he was about to turn his back on the house and leave, then fate choose for him: a gust of wind blew the window open and he clearly saw the glittering silverware, the shining precious furniture and the promise of easy profit.
Sam silently crept into the dark and silent mansion and shut the window behind him.
Officer Arthur was the first to arrive, alerted by the owners of the mansion at 36, Marple Street. Someone had crept into the house without stealing anything, and this was very strange, according to the officer. Even stranger than the signs of struggle in the central hallway, and even stranger than the open cupboard and the pile of newspapers left inside, as if someone had hidden inside the cupboard to read the bad news those meddling journalists published daily. Even stranger than the cap stuck between the cabinet doors: it was old and worn out, and according to its size, it had to be a boy’s hat. What the hell had happened to the cap's owner, officer Arthur could not tell... And to be completely honest, he didn’t care.
The officer quickly dismissed the matter; there was a thief who had robbed many houses in the neighborhood, after all. Maybe this time his luck had run out. He did not know how to explain the newspapers and the cap, though, unless an informed dwarf with a penchant for burglary had come into town.
He decided it was time for a cheeseburger and took leave of the owners with a listless smile, assuring them that they would find that damn petty thief very soon. There was no doubt about that.
Samuel D. Hall
12 years old
Missing from Little Hope since April 20, 1928