Never called Mike or Mickey but always Michael, it's a sweet name for such a sly little rake. For someone who didn't know him, the pretence of formality gave him a saintly air. Already on his own, Michael is a young pick pocket. Roving from here to there, the boy had become a seasoned opportunist.
I've learned to stow my valuables when he shows up which is usually unexpected. Standing at my door wearing bent brim hat, a vest, worn out knickers and shoes with laces dragging.
I commented, "Michael, you really should sit down and learn to tie your shoes properly."
He holds up and dangles before me a gold pocket watch that he has surely nicked. "Ten bucks?"
I said, "That's a little too much, how about five?"
The little thief said, "Ok".
I gave him an Indian-head gold piece.
This was what he had hoped for all along. As a street trader, Michael starts out high but in his mind, he has already settled on a price and knowing him, I guessed it. He smiles and hands me the watch. It makes me feel good to please him.
Money wasn't the issue for me because I'd probably make the watch a gift to someone. Reselling it would make me a partner in his crime and that particular crime is not one I want to be a party to. However, there are other crimes that would find me more willing.
"Dyu got time for me Mr. Alfred. I've been out all night."
I discourage myself from thinking too hard about what Michael's nocturnal activities might be.. I admit the surly, less than 5 footer into my flat. He looks around and then crawls onto my bed like he owns the place. He buries his face in my pillow and feigns sleep. When I bring him wine and pastries he sits up eagerly.
"Dyu kno Alfred, you're not like most that treats me like a stray dog,..which I am. You're different. Even after I stole that dollar you still treat me so good."
I smiled, appreciating the compliment. "Michael my boy, I am your biggest fan. I've a dollar hid away in one of my pockets . See if you can get it without me knowing and it 'll be yours."
He laughed at my folly but the challenge was genuine on my part and right up his alley.
Michael liked that I approved of his nefarious ways. Pick pocketing and selling his bottom was just survival and nothing more. How else is a boy suppose to eat? For an honest living he might hitch a ride to Pennsylvania to sort and break up coal or take the train up to New Bedford to work in the mills or to stay here in the city and sell newspapers for a few pennies.
Green eyed Michael was too impatient for anything like that and besides, he likes masturbating too much. I tugged off his shoes one after the other.
Michael raised himself up on his elbows a little and looking at me he said, "Ya kno what?"
I said, "No Michael, what?"
In a strange and serious tone he said, "I'm a little bastard. I never saw my father and my mother's gone off somewhere."
It was as if the real meaning of the words had finally been revealed to him.
"Mrs. Riley over 9th street told me that's what I am and then told me what it meant and then she chased me away. She told me I was no good, which I probably am, but it made me feel bad."
I smiled and pulled myself close to him. "So what? It makes no difference to me whether you are or you aren't. If I was one how would you know? Would you dislike me if you found out that I was a bastard?"
Michael was quiet and silent until he softly said, "no."
"So you see, it makes absolutely difference to me and it shouldn't to you."
I felt his body relax and his smile returned. A threatening storm had passed.
"Can I sleep here tonight?"
I said yes.
If anything, Michael was bold. "And another glass of wine please."
I refilled his glass. Nothing brings me more pleasure on this earth than a languid and pliable boy. He drinks and lowering his glass, unconsciously showing me his tongue. I could tell that Michael has already secured a taste for wine.
He was calm and relaxed in my close company. I encircled him with my arm. "Mr. Alfred, why is wine red?"
Before I could answer, Michael was asleep.
I did the washing up and from the alcove I watched him gently jerking in his slumber. I thought to myself for a long moment.
Michael should be my son. I would care for him like a precious treasure. I would make sure he was educated and despite people's expectations he could become an admired man noble in stature.
I undressed him and he roused himself only long enough to slip under the covers. When I came to bed he embraced me with both arms and legs and he did this without even waking.
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