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TShortly after the lunch hour, he walked into the modern glass-walled main building of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Southwest Washington. He strode into a room where he had been before, a room that stuck in his mind because it was unattended and full of IBM equipment.
The thing he wanted was atop a five-foot machine. It was big but it could be caried, Cockeye thought, and Pat would want it. But damn, a black man can't just walk out of here with that.
In an office where two dozen women in partially enclosed cubicles typed correspondence and memos, Ko-Rec-Type at the ready, Cockeye found a cardboard box full of books and correspondence. He dumped them onto the floor. One of the secretaries leaned over her partition and staded.
"I'm just gettin' a box." He smiled, waving the empty carton at her. The secretary nodded and returned to her typing.
It was usually like that in government buildings. No one questioned Cockeye so long as he didn't give himself away. No one was really concerned, except for the cleaning ladies. They were the most curious, and the hardest to fool.
Cockeye unplugged the machine he wanted. It was heavier than he expected, and he had to ease it off the top of the larger machine and cradle it against his chest, letting it slide slowly down his leisure suit to the empty cardboard box, which, he suddenly and sickeningly realized, was too small. The sides of the carton collapsed.
He grabbed a large plastic trash bag and tried to squeeze the machine and crushed box into it. The bag tore and a corner of the machine poked out. He hoisted the whole heavy mess and shuffled down a corridor toward an exit, his body sagging.
"Excuse me," the white man said.
Sonofabitch . . . what does he want? . . . Maybe he saw me get it . . .
The white man picked up the trailing cord, carefully tucked it into the plastic bag, and smiled.
"Thank you," Cockeye said.
"Wait a minute!" The white man scurried ahead, stepping on an electric mat that opened the door to the street.
The getaway car was not in sigth.
Here I am standing in the street with this goddamned thing, and there's no car, though Cockeye. But he found Short Rick a block away, they flipped forward the seat of the late model Super Sport, set the machine on the back seat, and sped off to the PFF warehouse, where, unknown to him. Cockeye was fencing his machines to policemen posing as criminals.
"Dan, where's you get this from?" Pasquale Larocca said, peeling the plastic bag off the machine on his counter.
Cockeye told him the FBI building, Pat always asked that question, and Cockeye never answered truthfully.
"Man, you didn't hurt anybody, did you?"
"You mean you walked out with this? Dam! I know you had somebody inside . . ."
Pat's question annoyed Cockeye. It was a lot of b-s- that delayed him from getting the scratch.
"You all must be good thieves," psaid, examining the IBM machine.
"What about the scratch? Cockeye queried.
Pat gave him $230, which he and Short Rick split.
Outside, Cockeye and Short Rick climbed back into the Super Sport and headed across town to see thedope man.
Cockeye's companion on another day was a man we'll call Sugarfoot, a tall skinny junkie whom he had met around 13th and T Streets NW and got on with because they had much in common.
Cockeye and Sugarfoot strolled into a large concrete office building, one of several that house federal government agencies around 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. They didn't know which building it was, or what agency worked there, and didn't much care.
This particular building Cockeye remembered because he had taken a typewriter off the first floor a month before. He also remembered that it was crawling with "them damn cleaning women." It was easy to get things out of there if he could just get by the cleaing women.
Traveling down the fourth-floor corridors, Cockeye found one room with three typewriters and no people.
He was wrapping the cord around a typewriter when Sugarfoot, from the doorway, hissed through clenched teeth. "Don't come out, man, (an) old biddy's back there, peein' at you."
"Just go on down there where she at then. Maybe she'll watch you."
Cockeye luggged the IBM out the door, away from the cleaning lady, and set the machine down around the corner. Returning for another, he met his companion.
"Man, like, we better make it out of here," Sugarfoot said, "the old bitch nosy as hell."
"Okay. Let's split."
They got halfway down the staircase with their machines when they spotted another cleaning woman sweeping the stairs with a broom.
Cockeye wheeled back upstairs, leaving Sugarfoot to make his own way out, and lugged the typewriter down a long corridor to the other end of the building. He wobbled downfour flights to the main hallway, Spitting some of his yellow slime on the way, and then struggled a half city block back long the main corridor to the exit. He didn't want to be walking the sidewalk with a typewriter and have the police be all over him. Better to use the hallway.
The exit he wanted was guarded by two men in the navy-blue uniforms and silver badges of the General Services Administration police - the Federal Protective Service - who are responsible for security in most federal buildings. Cockeye ducked into an empty office, filled a manila envelope with some papers he grabbed off a desk, and rested this on top of the typewriter.
Now, if the guards looked unusually alert and questioned him, he could begin sauntering away down a corridor, claiming he was just returning a repaired typewriter.
When the guards met his smile with relaxed grins of their own, he knew he wouldn't have to do that. His clothes soaked with sweat, he put the typewriter down next to them and pulled out his handkerchief, slowly dragging it across his forehead and inspecting it at arm's length for saturation.
"It don't even make sense," he wailed. "I can't get nobody to help me. They jus' wanna work you."
"Brother, you tellin' the truth," the guard said.
Cockeye pulled out a cigarette. "Give me a match, man, mine's wet as the devil."
"Yeah.They must really got you goin' there . . ."
They talked and smoked, and told each other how they'd be damned fools if they didn't quit their lousy jobs.
"Well, man," Cockeye said, picking up the typewriter. "I'd better get on and gee this white man his eight hours."
"Take care," the guard said.
As he left, Cockeye mused over the value of using race in describing imaginary bosses. He knew from eexperience that had the guards been white, he could've made it out just as easy, yelling something like: "Man. I swear these niggers gettin on my nerves. You know I can't live with 'em no more.They such simple niggers. There's one thing I hate is a nigger, you can't tell me' about them niggers, man."
The white guards, Cockeye had found, would be hushing him, fingers to their smiling lips, their faces reddening with embarrassment as he walked out the door with his loot.
Next: Hustling pool and forging checks.