Chapter 5: Quit while you are ahead
The next morning, Steven was awoken by the enormous noise generated by his mother returning from work. She was a cleaning lady and had been working night shifts for the past nine years, but she seemed unable to stop cleaning even when she returned home. She was already fifty years old, but when she was not wearing a blue uniform, she was always in tight jeans or miniskirts trying to act like she was still in her twenties. A large number of Steven’s friends found her cool as she drove her old rusted Ford Escort down the street with a look at me expression on her face and the radio so loud that he wondered why she was not yet deaf. Steven felt a little ashamed of himself for thinking that slutty was more accurate than cool. He never really understood why a smart and good-looking guy like Tony had been contempt with a woman much older than him, but he assumed it had something to do with women with experience or that Tony was just aiming as low at love as he was at his career choices.
Steven got out of bed and as usual, went to the kitchen to prepare himself a quick breakfast, an omelet composed of whatever he could find that was still fresh in the refrigerator. Then he returned to his room to eat and work on his computer in relative peace as his mother banged the vacuum on every walls. To make sure he minimized the contact with her and to increase his lifespan, he had bought a mini-refrigerator for his room and an air purifier to help reduce the smell of smoke generated by the staggering number of hand rolled cigarettes his mother went through each day.
Looking at the date on his computer, Steven noticed that only two weeks remained until May 8th, 1997 and his twentieth birthday.
Maybe it was time to leave the nest, spread his wing and start travelling.
A few years earlier, Steven had planned to travel across Canada by train on the luxurious Silver Blue, the VIA Rail train with a wonderful glass dome which allowed the passengers to enjoy the magnificent countryside on their way to Vancouver. Unfortunately, his girlfriend at the time could not get the permission from her parents to go with him, even though he proposed to pay for the entire trip. Her parents had always been suspicious of how Steven could afford to pay for such a trip at his age. Steven had kept the cancelled ticket on his desk ever since as a reminder or perhaps, as a motivation. He often clenched at it, smelled it, closed his eyes and imagined everything he could have seen if he had just gone along. Maybe it was time to forge a plan to do just that, nothing illegal in doing so. The police had not even appointed him a court date, the detective had said he would call him later, and they had Steven’s cell phone and email which should be enough.
It is one of those things that you cannot explain, the sort of things you just have to do. Although everything seemed to be settled in his life, settled is not what supposed to be at his age, adventurous was the way to go and with that in mind, he grabbed his cordless phone and made all the arrangements for the disconnection of his phone lines and dispose off his old Hyundai. The car was so much in disarray that he had to use clothes hangers to make sure the hood wouldn’t open again in the middle of the highway and breaking the windshield like it did a month before. Steven was now as resolute to go and to travel light. The wind always carries lighter objects further than it does heavy ones.
Steven knew that using the money he had just made to buy another car the day after his arrest would be suicidal. He did the only thing that he believed to be right, and with the old canceled ticket still in hand, he booked himself a cabin on the cross-country Silver Blue leaving the next morning. The train only passed by Toronto three times a week and he knew tomorrow would be one of them. A plan started forming in his head that after leaving, he would go and stay a few days in the Rockies and then continue on to Vancouver. From there, he would take a plane to Asia where he hoped his money could be stretched longer than in expensive European countries.
One dilemma he was facing was that he would have to leave his team short of a man for this summer’s Carding. Every summer for the past five years, the Fantastic Four, as the other members named the team, had been renting an office downtown Toronto for a month, hiring a secretary and making cloned credit cards to order almost half a million dollars in electronics, gift certificates and other goods. Last year, Steven made a deal with a few businesses in Montreal and sold them stamp rolls at seventy percent off face value. The skim had made the group over thirty thousand dollars in a day. All he had to do for it was to call Canada Post Philatelic Centre and ordered hundreds of rolls of stamps under different names. After the secretary signed the courier receipt, he drove six hours to Montreal to dump the lot on eager clients and returned with a briefcase full of twenty dollar bills.
Steven took a few minutes, sitting on his bed and weighing the pros and cons. His decision was made. Sometimes, he thought, you have to know when to quit and that moment was now. His friends could manage without him; they had all the knowledge to do it. They would make it without any problem, he was pretty sure, and with that thought he felt relieved and got up. Mister Fantastic was out.
After spending a bit of time packing, Steven paged Stephanie. After waiting another hour for the call that never came, he paged her again, but this time adding 911 at the end of the number. A few minutes later the phone rang, sure enough the call display indicated the number of the pay phone at Stephanie’s school. She always regretted that he had left high school in the middle of the year only to stay at home and play on his computer. She often reminded him that since primary school, he always had much better grade than hers, won more awards than she did and that it was totally stupid for a student in the top five percent of the school to drop his education. Steven always counter-argued that because he was in the top, it was all the reason he needed to drop. In his mind, when you feel you have nothing to learn, there is no point in staying just so you can have a piece of paper, and besides, in the past few months, he had educated himself and had learned much more than he ever had in school.
“Steven, I was in the middle of my chemistry class, I hope it's important?”
Feeling a little stressed knowing how important school was to her and not wanting to tarnish their relationship, he apologized immediately using the softest tone he could muster.
“Stephanie, I know I promised not to call you at school unless it is extremely important… well it’s sort of; I need to see you after class. Please, it is imperative that I see you today, can I pick you up?”
“Of course, does it have anything to do with what happened last night? I tried to call your cell phone many times but all I got was my own voice urging me to leave you a message. Then I called your family’s phone line, but your mother had no clue where you were. I left a message with her, but you know how your mother doesn't approve of our relationship. She still thinks I'm only your fuck friend. At least it was how she “elegantly” put it to me last time. If I had not been raised in a properly mannered family, I might have been inclined to say that I was. What else would I be since the sex is so great with you?” Stephanie said giggling.
Steven ignored the compliment and continued. “Well, I never received that message, but sorry for not calling you; I’ll explain everything tonight,” he promised, knowing that “everything” was just a relative term with people like him. “Is it alright if I pick you up at 15:45 at our usual spot?”
“Sure, see ya,” and with that, Stephanie hung up and returned at a brisk walk to her classroom.