James David Cohn

How we came by the money I do not recall. Years later I would say the same thing to a jury and it would go just as poorly.

Those were the years when I was seventeen, already well practiced in lying, fifteen years of untruth under my belt according to my calculations, ever since my first word which was my first lie, ma-ma.

We had been so careful, we thought we had been so careful. We hadn’t reckoned on certain things. We hadn’t considered, for example, that they would talk to each other, compare notes, just as a government RICO computer can look at the movements of a person of interest and the movements of another person of interest and see that these two were in the same places at certain times and even an idiot could see that something was afoot.

Our cover story was adequate to the task, a week in the Bahamas to celebrate my high school graduation, just me along with my older brother Jeffrey who would provide the needed guidance in loco parentis. Therefore it was only natural that we would need passports, vaccinations, voltage converters.

We used two Miami travel agents and avoided interconsciousness, each agent unaware of how we had nested one itinerary inside another. The first agent booked us on the Miami-Nassau flight, simple enough and dirt cheap. The second agent booked us on the Nassau-Luxembourg flight, also dirt cheap. We were flying Icelandic Air which offered deeply discounted flights, not least of all because flying out of Nassau instead of Miami meant avoiding all those pesky U.S. tariffs. Decades later, the attempt to avoid other pesky U.S. tariffs took me to Nassau once again. Oh well.

The second agent said to me, “Nassau to Luxembourg, got it, but how are you getting to Nassau?” I said “My brother” as if that were an explanation. “Ah” she said.

We didn’t tell my parents about the second travel agent.

We also made sure not to tell my parents that my friend Russell was joining us on the trip. They did not approve of Russell. They thought he might be what was then called homosexual, for he had no girlfriend. According to this relentless logic Jeffrey and I were also homosexual as were all the guys I knew.

Back then things like this mattered. I know, right?

So we made sure not to utter Russell’s name in connection with this journey for that would scuttle it before it started. Russell already had a passport, a British one, because he was at our high school as a British exchange student and therefore he was international. Because he was British and international, his parents had no problem with his going to Europe. Britain after all is in Europe, sort of.

Here too we avoided interconsciousness, this time among the parents. Russell would take a different flight to the Bahamas, where we would rendezvous in the Nassau airport bar for our trip on Icelandic Airways.

According to my notes this deception operation commenced in the summer of 1970. I would be more specific here but in my notes the detail is wanting, as I have no notes.

There was no Internet in 1970. Back in those days we had libraries. Today we have libraries but they are on computers and libraries back then were on streets. Those libraries provided travel guides of various vintages, some quite venerable as the libraries would add guides but never subtract them. We knew all about places in Europe that might or might not still exist. We toasted them with glasses of cheap Cotes du Rhone bought not with fake IDs but with simple bravado.

The library we used the most was the one where I worked in my senior year because I loved books though I grew to hate every fucking book in that fucking library.

My job was to shelve returns. Every day when I arrived there were carts filled with such books, organized according to the Dewey Decimal System by one of the ten main subject groups and otherwise unsorted, for example a cart of mixed 900s, History and Biography.

There were a lot of books in the 900s.

This work required work. I was not disposed to this work despite the fact that it was my job, mainly because I was not disposed to work. I found this out later and the upshot of it is that I write these words in the library of a Federal Correctional Center where I now work for far less money than I earned working in a library when I was in high school four decades earlier. Preparing for trial, my attorney asked me have you ever been fingerprinted and I said yes when I went to work at the library in high school because it was a government job. She thought and then she said I doubt they were ever entered in a database and sure enough the prosecutors never turned over that particular stone and yet here I sit.

In racketeering cases the issue of fingerprints comes up less often than you might think.

I would roll my cart into the 900s and place books onto the shelves. I was not diligent in pursuit of this task, taking the books and placing them into whatever space I chose regardless of the adjoining numbers. I hated those books and I hated that library because I hated work. I don’t mean I hated the work, I mean I hated work, I resented it, and I know I am repeating myself here but the point is that it seemed Unfair that I had to work and the only reason I was working was that my mother believed we kids shouldn’t be handed everything, we should have jobs, and I was convinced she was wildly mistaken in this matter so I resented her so I resented the job so I resented the books so I resented the library so I misshelved her.

To punish life I stole library books with abandon, especially travel guides, and these books I did not hate, I loved these books because they were beautiful and because they were useful and because I had stolen them. They had railway maps and pictures of castles and restaurant reviews with stars connoting relative desirability and enjoyment.

I never ended up seeing any of these things.

My parents saw the two of us onto the plane. When it took off Jeffrey and I ordered cocktails and then more cocktails, as many cocktails as the short flight time to Nassau would allow, and then more cocktails in the un-air-conditioned airport bar where the happy reunion with Russell took place, the three of us laughing and sweating and waiting for the flight to Luxembourg. We had pulled it off. It felt even better than misshelving books.

And while we were sitting in the Nassau airport bar talking about railways and castles and restaurants, my mother was nailing the lie. I don’t know how she sensed this lie but I suspect it was a blend of two things, her uncanny ability to sniff out untruths, and the fact that we were utter bunglers. As one of my bunkies here said to me last week, this place is filled with people who thought they’d never get caught.


Here’s how simple it was. My mother called Russell’s father and asked, “Where’s Russell?”

Meanwhile the three conspirators raised our glasses in the bar. “To Europe!” we said, and in that moment the airport intercom broadcast an announcement summoning my brother to an international telephone call in Booth Six and he went to Booth Six and he was in Booth Six for a only a few minutes and when he came out he said “We have to go home” and we did.

When we got home we went to the most expensive restaurant in the city, one of those newfangled revolving rooftop thingies, and we ordered steak and lobster and champagne and cheesecake and we slipped out without paying because in the immature logic of the immature ethics of my immature mind, then as now, someone should pay for this mess and it should not be me.

© 2018 James David Cohn