Hey there, all you sleight of hand experts, pickpockets, and Artful Dodgers of every kind. You’ve landed on Lisa Burton Radio, the only show that brings you interviews with the characters you love. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and my special guest today is Bill Hope.”Welcome to the show, Bill.”
“How do, Miss Lisa. Glad to be here.”
“My bio says you’ve lived a pretty colorful life. There is a certain romance to being a thief. What is your preferred method of operation?”
“I work the streets and any place where the moneyed gents gather – theater lobbies, shops, horsecars, crowds watching parades and arguments and fights. The easiest hits are country bumpkins in wide-brimmed hats that walk around real wide-eyed staring at the crowds and sandwichmen and traffic with their coat open wide showing a shirtfront with a peach of a spark so when a mob of shoppers or beggars or a RADICAL CURE TRUSSES crowds in around them I just glide up and filch the spark real quick and clear out before they even know it’s gone. Of course I make mistakes. Once when I tried to rob a yokel he pushed me up against a WINES LIQUORS CIGARS storefront and hollered for a cop and a bluecoat came and they hustled me into a Black Maria that’s a big long hearse of a wagon and I was brought up before a judge and sent to that gloomy old prison the Tombs. And there that bumpkin came to me and turned out to be no hick at all but Sheldon Minick in disguise the city’s most successful private snoop who calls himself The Eye That Never Sleeps cause he goes after criminals no matter how they try to escape and he promised to drop charges if I’d do a job for him. He wanted me to snatch a real fancy scarf pin that a sweet little grafter named Sugar Nell had lifted right off a dear departed in a coffin at a funeral and she was parading around on Broadway with it on her and his family hired Mr. Minick to get it back and I thought robbing the dear departed wasn’t right so I was game. I did the job and snatched it off of her real neat and he was true to his word and dropped charges and from then on he was a friend to me and wanted me to quit the crooked life. A real sport he was and still is.”
“What led you to this career path?”
“I never knowed my ma who died when I was born and my pa dumped me on an uncle who beat me often as not so I took off and lived on the streets and my pal Dan taught me the tricks of the trade so we could net some coin and get a place of our own and live snug and warm and sleep there and not on a bale of cotton on the docks or under a cart. Mr. Minick wants me to quit the crooked life and I do too but we don’t know any honest job for a guttersnipe like me with no learning only street smarts that pays like grafting does. Like I told him many a time, gotta eat, boss, gotta buy shoes.”
“I think I understand that, but what about those you steal from? Don’t they gotta eat, too?”
“Miss Lisa, I’m a good fellow and good fellows live by their brain not brawn and hate bullies and thugs and snitches and never rat on their pals. So I never rob ladies or the poor, only moneyed gents who strut their coin, cause I won’t put them in the poorhouse they can spare a little jack for me.”
“Aren’t you afraid it will all catch up to you one day?”
“I been in and out of prison four times. Once Mr. Minick got me out and once I escaped in a coffin and once a mysterious gent called the Old Gentleman sprung me out of Sing Sing where I was beaten by a bully of a guard and snooped on my a mean little snitch of a cellmate. And once to escape a stretch in prison I didn’t deserve a lawyer told me to fake crazy so I worked up some words I’d heard educated people use and told the court I had distinguishable blood and lots of juhnusaykwa in my veins and would inherit from my uncle the most raffinated Duke de Champagne and I convinced the judge I had delusions and ended up in a loony bin with real loonies.”
“Several arrests. So now you carry a black-mark on your record. That has to make it difficult to find honest work.”
“It sure is. Some Christian folks as wanted me to reform turned a cold shoulder when I asked about a job. But the Old Gent as sprung me from Sing Sing offered me a crazy way out of the crooked life. He got me to work for him in a scheme called the green goods game where we sold fake counterfeit money to folks as wanted to pass it off on their neighbors and the cops let us alone figuring we was crooks cheating crooks only we wasn’t breaking any laws just cheating would-be crooks who needed cash real fast like storekeepers in debt and farmers about to lose their farms and even small-town mayors and a judge and a couple of sheriffs from out West and a preacher as wanted money to build a new church for his flock. That job taught me how even respectable people can be tempted to do a bit of graft and it worked for a while and I was in the chips and even met the Old Gent’s daughter and fell for her something fierce but then he wanted me to do something no good fellow could do and I refused and from then on he hated my guts and vowed to get me and I went into hiding. And then just when I was scared for my life they accused me Bill Hope — a good fellow who hates bullies and violence and never hurt anyone except in self-defense – they accused me of murder!”
“Maybe the worst time in my life. But no matter how things go and no matter what they accuse me of or try to do to me, I always hope for better. Sometimes better comes and sometimes not, but you gotta hope. What else is there? My pal Dan even kids me about my last name but I didn’t pick that name it just happened to me but yes I always hope. Hope and hope and hope. Otherwise it’s death.”
“I’m sure we wish you luck here, Bill. Any closing remarks for our listeners today?”
“I hope my story will help the folks who hear it and especially folks in trouble. Always always hope. It will see you through.”
“You can learn all about Bill in the book, Bill Hope His Story, by Clifford Browder. I’ll post all the details on the web after I log off today.
“Don’t forget to tip your waitress, and by that I mean use those sharing buttons. I’ll be doing it, Clifford will be doing it, and I’d bet he’d do it for you, when your character appears on the next Lisa Burton Radio.”
New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a thief and other adventures. The second novel in the Metropolis series. Bill discusses his experiences as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his scorn for snitches and bullies; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; his brief career on the stage playing himself; his loyalty to a man who has befriended him but may be trying to kill him; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder. In the course of his adventures he learns how slight the difference is between criminal and law-abiding, insane and sane, vice and virtue–a lesson that reinforces what he learned on the streets. Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a yearning to leave the crooked life behind, and a persistent and undying hope.
“A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure. A must read.” Five-star review by nicole w brown.
“This was a fun book. The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character. I would recommend this.” Four-star Library Thing review by stephvin.
Purchase link: Amazon
Clifford Browder is a writer living in New York. He has published two biographies, three historical novels, and an award-winning collection of posts from his blog, “No Place for Normal: New York.” His poetry has appeared in numerous small reviews, both online and in print. Mostly vegan, he has never owned a car, a television, or a cell phone. He is fond of oystercatchers and slime molds, and never kills spiders. Though ripe in years, he has learned the Charleston: geezers rock.