Final Confession: The Unsolved Crimes of Phil Cresta 

Review

Brian P. Wallace & Bill Crowley
(Northeastern University Press)

This book will explain what it takes to become a master thief. These tried-and-true methods will keep the cops and the D.A. and the FBI in fits for years, and elevate you from a small-time yegg to a millionaire ten times over.

First, you gotta have one helluva shitty childhood. Get raised by a sadistic bastard who beats you and your family night after night: physically, emotionally, the works--a ruthless SOB who sends you to juvie for stealing tires, even though the cops let you go.

Once you absorb all you can from this godawful upbringing, embark yourself upon that sweaty tap dance from reform school to jail. During your tenure in the system, you'll learn such valuable skills as picking locks, "smoking" keys, and disabling a variety of alarm systems. Upon graduation, take your state-sponsored education and your big sister's Chicago mob connections and set up a nice little subcontractorship in Boston: breaking and entering, money laundering, strong-arming bookies for the local underboss. Oh yeah, you'll need a legit day job as a cover, such as selling used cars or running a fake diner.

But the master thief is destined for more than a dead-end goonship. Devise a caper that will net you some crazy money and, more importantly, street cred. Something like, say, knocking over parking meters. Oh sure, the wise guys'll laugh. "Ain't that nickel n' dime stuff cute," they'll say. But they'll shut it when you start raking in the lettuce, over 100 large before Boston pounds the mat and replaces all the meters in the city.

After a few more solo jobs you'll be ready to lead a team. Bring a couple paisanos on board and teach them the finer points of the successful professional: Obscure thyself, for one. Get the Syndicate's tailor in the Windy City to knit up a full line of uniforms, from maintenance to security, which you can use to infiltrate a whole range of sensitive locales. No one's the wiser till it's too late.

Foresight is another must, planning and patience, natch. Meteorology is a science much-scorned at rained-out baseball games and picnics, but it will serve you well. Learn your crew about overhead: bribing cops, judges, and politicians; cultivating a stable of "ears" and "moles." You gotta keep lots of people happy to keep yourself in the know, to keep yourself one step ahead of the game.

But eventually, "in the know" means knowing that even with all the skills and all the connections, something will go wrong. Eventually, someone will fuck you. So, you gotta have an escape plan--not when you need it, before. You gotta keep a nest egg, the scratch to get your keister outta town and get yourself a fake identity. After all, you've become one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted.

Yeah, gone will be the days of glorious heists, hijacking armored cars and jewelers carrying those beautiful black cases. Gone will be the furriers and stamp and coin collectors, the time-lock safes and police precinct storerooms you had the stones to burglarize. Even the goofy, serendipitous jobs--heisting two hundred thou in Italian fountain pens you later learned belonged to the Gambinos--will be no more. But that's OK; you'll get a new life. You'll even get chummy with the mayor of Chicago.

Really, you never hurt anyone who wasn't asking for it. Well, except for your old lady, who you married while you were on the lam and who thinks you're someone else. You put her in the hospital when the feds finally nailed you and your mug showed up on the news like that. That ain't so good.

After 12 years in the can, you go free. But after all the hiding and all the court costs you got nothing, except this ex-cop roommate and this newspaper guy who want to write a book about you. They want to write about your incredible, unsolved exploits, and not too well at that. The book will be dumbed down and told with all the skill and grace of a safecracker trying to break a combination while straddling a unicycle. But that don't matter. After all, with the master thief it's the tale, not the telling.

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