The Burglar Prowls
GEORGE PATNIKS HATED HIS nickname, "Pitty-Pitty." There was no dignity in a name like Pitty-Pitty Patniks, but then Alex Sewell, the boss of cell block C, hadn't been concerned about George's dignity. Sewell had a great nickname, "Steelhead." It implied that nothing could penetrate Sewell's head, not a tool shop knife made from a toothbrush, not a V bar loosened from the bottom of a bunk, not a thought or idea. Steelhead was a risky nickname. It gave a target and defied the other cons to go after it.
But Pitty-Pitty, what the hell sense did that make? George, whose real name was Gregor Eupatniaks, was sure that Steelhead Sewell, who was serving two life sentences for murdering a pair of runaway girls in Moline, hadn't thought about the nickname he bestowed on the skinny kid who had just done the first month of time for his first felony, breaking and entering.
But the name stuck. George couldn't shake it. It followed him to Chicago's Near North Side neighborhood where he had spent his life, except for the two years he had done for breaking and entering and the two more years he had done for breaking and entering again and the year he had done for possession of a weapon, a dinky piece, a .22 he carried in his tool belt under his jacket. It was really the burglary tools in the belt that they had gotten him for, not the Friday night nothing-special, but they couldn't nail him on the tools so they got him for the gun.
Even the police called him Pitty-Pitty. A grown man, now pushing forty-six, with almost six years of down time on three felonies. That was one of the worst things about being picked up, cops yelling his nickname across a squad room.
George considered himself one of the most successful burglars in Cook County. He wasn't sure how many houses, businesses, and apartments he had plucked-two hundred? Maybe three hundred? Maybe more? You'd think he'd keep count, but he didn't, like a movie star on Jay Leno who can't remember how many movies he's been in.
George hadn't worked an honest day in his life since his sixteenth birthday, but the dishonest ones had added up over the years. He practiced his profession once every three or four weeks for a few hours-not counting set-up time-and devoted the rest of his time to eating, sleeping, hanging out with his brother when he was around, and trying, sometimes successfully, to pick up women or girls at Unikle's Tap or the Blue Truck Bar. But what he liked to do most was something that he had picked up in prison. George's passion was painting. He had always liked to draw, but in prison an artist from Chicago named Joplin-guy in denims, hair hanging over his eyes, mess of a beard-had conducted a six-week class in painting. George had taken to it. He was a natural. He could paint what was in his head from the moment he picked up the brush.
Most people thought Steelhead Sewell had given him the name Pitty-Pitty because it was what Steelhead thought it sounded like when George was painting. Trouble was, George was sure Steelhead Sewell did not know he was taking the class or painting.
Joplin the painter had told George that he had talent. Years later, when George was exhibiting in an art fair in Lincoln Park, he ran into Joplin, who was showing his own stuff. They talked. Joplin said he had been out of town a few years. His hands shook. Rummy. Joplin's paintings were for shit. Who had he been to tell George Patniks that he was a good painter? George had a better grasp on reality than that.
George looked at his own paintings-cons leaning lonelily against concrete block walls, smoking and looking at nothing, buildings that looked so tired they might tumble over with a pat on the back from a good wind off Lake Michigan, kids playing in the park on the merry-go-round but not looking like they were having fun. George knew he had the eye. But he didn't have the magic. Wasn't there. No avoiding the t