The high price of a little literary research.
May 13, 2016
TERRY SMITH HAD every great attribute a novelist would ever want to possess. His mind was flooded with an assortment of odd, curious, and wonderful ideas, and most of them spilled out when they were least expected. He spent his every waking hour in the midst of some dream that, sooner than later, usually sooner, became a scheme. He was brave. He was supremely confident.
He was a crook.
Well, Terry Smith was a crook first.
Then he became an author.
He, with all of the humility he could muster, had simply described himself as “Britain’s most infamous armed robber.”
He did make a mistake now and then.
Terry Smith even got caught now and then.
He served a little prison time.
But that was then.
This was now.
You wanted to steal a little?
He told you how.
You want to follow a gun into a bank?
He told you how.
Terry Smith even boasted about an “audacious” escape from custody, and he proudly wrote that he was personally responsible for some of the most daring robberies ever witnessed in Great Britain. In certain criminal and political circles, he referred to himself as a “minor celebrity” and a “robbologist.”
But, of course, that was then.
This was now.
And now he was a reformed man. He had seen the wickedness of his ways. He had repented. His sins were washed away, and his feet were on the straight and narrow path to glory.
He had a wife now.
He had a family now.
Terry Smith had decided to live a civilized life and make his fortune writing books. That’s what authors did, wasn’t it? Make a fortune writing books?
The author business, he found out, was a little slow.
He discovered that fortunes came much easier when he was carrying a gun instead of sitting all day at a keyboard, slamming nouns, verbs, and adjectives together.
He read his own book again, the one about “The Art of Armed Robbery,” and became inspired once again.
A good book will do that to a man.
He picked up a couple of friends, and they picked up a couple of guns, and the men, with nothing better to do with their time, attacked security guards who were delivering cash to those little hole-in-the-wall machines in East London and Essex.
Don’t hang around.
Hit the road.
And do it again.
Terry Smith knew the formula for success. His little escapade earned the armed bandits about two hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
It was a good haul. It had been a good way to spend the morning.
But, unfortunately, a man had made a really poor decision, which they could do nothing about. He had tried to stop them, and, lo and behold, he made the mistake of walking directly in front of a bullet.
When the police grabbed him, Terry Smith started talking.
“I’m reformed,” he said.
Nobody was listening.
“I’m an author,” he said.
Police just shook their heads.
“I’m a writer and consultant on a movie,” he said.
Well, Terry Smith did serve as consultant for a few television programs, and he had been hired as a technical advisor for Spike Lee’s film, Inside Man.
“I’m a good man,” he told the judge.
“I’ve seen the light,” he told the jury.
Detective Superintendent Michael Field, however, described Terry Smith, as a violent, cynical individual with no regard for the law who was prepared to go to frightening ends to ensure his demands were met.”
The jury heard both men. The trial lasted six days.
Guilty was the verdict.
No parole for twelve years, the judge said.
Terry Smith could not understand.
Didn’t they know he was a writer?
Didn’t they know he had published a book? Didn’t they know he had published several books?
Why, he wondered, had they turned a deaf ear to his defense. It sounded perfectly logical to him.
“I’m not a robber,” he said.
“No, Your Honor,” he said. “Let me explain what I was doing.”
Terry Smith squared his shoulders, stood tall, and tried to look for all the world like the author he was. “I’m working on a book,” he said. “I was just carrying out a little literary research,” he said.
There wasn’t a lot of difference between the sound of the judge’s gavel and the metal lock on his cell door slamming shut.