Jessie The Spy Guy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Criss Sole

Often a good place to hide is in plain sight.

They say honesty is the best policy.  After 75 years of living, I have learned that is true.  Most of the time.  But life can be complicated.  Like what happened the summer of 1957.  When I met Jessie.
We lived on Ribault Lane, in Sea Island, Georgia.  One of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America.  From the third floor balcony of the mansion, you could see the pristine beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean.  But we weren’t rich, and we didn’t live in the mansion.  My dad was a chauffeur, my mother, a maid.  We occupied the servant’s quarters.
I turned eleven that summer.  I didn’t know much about money, but I knew the McMillans had a bunch, and the Simmons didn’t.  Mr. McMillan owned the mansion and was my parents’ employer.  My name is William Simmons.  Back then, everyone called me Billy.
One thing about money, parents needed a lot of it to send their kids to the private school on Sea Island.  My dad took the McMillan children there.  Not me.  Along with the other working class kids, I made the 45 minute bus ride to the public school in nearby Brunswick.
Which was no fun because I had to get up at 5 am on school days to get my chores done.  While momma cleaned the mansion, I cleaned our apartment.  Dad drove the McMillans around town, I drove mowers, rakes, and shovels around the estate.
Thankfully it was June and school had just let out.  Most days I was able to enjoy a few hours of fun.  Swimming in the ocean didn’t cost anything.  Neither did the killer collection of sea shells I’d amassed.
Life on Sea Island was predictable and calm.  Rich folks like it that way.  After Jessie Planter showed up, things got interesting.
When you reach my age, you’ve already forgotten most of your life.  If you’re lucky, some of the good things stick with you.  I remember the day I met Jessie, as clear as water in a mountain stream.
Jessie’s mom was the McMillan’s new cook.  His dad was in the Army, stationed in Europe.  I helped them move into their apartment.  Jessie’s bedroom was on the other side of the wall from mine.
He wasn’t much to look at.  Skinny, big ears, way too many teeth for that mouth.  But he walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “My name is Jessie Planter.  You and I are gonna be best friends.  And I’m gonna be a spy when I grow up.”
If you look up the word ebullient in the dictionary, it should say “cheerful and full of energy, for example, Jessie Planter.”  Personality was not the only thing he had in abundance.  Despite his size and appearance, Jessie was quite athletic.  Being taller and stronger than him was hardly an advantage, he often managed to beat me in a foot race or a game of basketball.
There was one thing Jessie could do better than any kid on the island.  Climbing trees.  Or anything vertical for that matter.  Flag pole, vine, light post, it didn’t matter.  If Jessie could grab hold of it, he could climb it. 
He was serious about the spy thing.  One of the boxes I carried in that first day was filled with well worn paperbacks.  All spy novels.  I’d never heard of Ian Fleming.  The first 007 movie would not be made for five years.  I had no idea what Jessie meant when he said “The name is Bond...James Bond” with a fake British accent. 
I got my first spy lesson that night.  Sometime after midnight, I woke up to tapping on my window.  Jessie was shining a flashlight on a note: “OPEN THE WINDOW.  QUIETLY!”  I did.  I whispered, “What the heck are you doing?  Don’t you know people sleep at night?”
“Sure I do.  That’s why spies operate after dark.  Get dressed and climb out the window.  I’m gonna make you into a spy.”
Jessie’s idea of spying was sneaking around the properties on Ribault Lane searching for the next “target.”  Meaning, a room with open curtains and a light on.  The staff usually pulled the shades on the first floor windows at dusk.  Sometimes rich folks were more casual on the upper floors.  Massive oak trees were everywhere.  When we found a target, one of us would shimmy up a tree, pull out the binoculars, and commence spying.
After each mission, we held a debriefing.  He’d scribble in a pocket sized notebook.  Everything he wrote was in code. “8-java-63-tango-bravo-7” meant something to Jessie.  “I’ll teach you how to read and write in spy code later.”
This became a regular middle of the night event.  When you’re young, you can get away with things like sleep deprivation.  I developed a liking for the adrenaline rush.  We were breaking the rules, and getting away with it.
One thing we weren’t was peeping toms.  Jessie had a ten item list he’d made up.  Page one of his notebook was titled Spy Guy Rules.  Number 7 was “No spying on naked people”.  Number 1 was “Don’t get caught.”  We wore dark clothing, soft shoes, and moved around with purpose.  We used hand signals and bird calls and never spoke while on a mission.
We worked as a team.  As soon as the spy started up a tree, he was vulnerable to detection and dependent on the guy on the ground, the wing man.  The wing man was in charge.  He watched from a safe spot.  If a door opened, or a car pulled into a driveway, that was a potential threat.  The wing man reported threats to the spy guy with bird sounds. 
As owls do, the eastern screech owls on Sea Island sleep during the day and hunt at night.  Despite the name, they don’t screech.  Instead, they make sounds described as whinnies and trills.  Jessie was an expert at owl sounds.
It didn’t take me long to pick it up, and learn the codes.  A short whinny indicated a potential threat, a longer whinny meant the threat had passed.  A short trill told the spy to freeze where he was.  Stretching the trill out meant he needed to climb higher in the tree.  Repeated, short trills was the evacuation call.  The spy should climb down immediately and head for one of our predetermined safe spots.  We had a plan for every contingent.
There were a few close calls.  One night we weren’t the only people sneaking around the Belson residence.  Their gardener, Mr. Wilkins, had a bottle of wine he apparently didn’t want to share with his wife.  He caught us off guard as he tiptoed out of his apartment.
Jessie was up a nearby oak and I gave a short trill.  There was nothing to do but maintain position.  I realized we had a problem when Mr. Wilkins plopped on the ground, under the tree Jessie had scaled.
Spy Guy Rule Number 3 was “Change the plan when you need to.”  Jessie wasn’t going anywhere.  We waited.
Eventually, Mr. Wilkins polished off the wine and fell asleep.  Time to move.  The snoring  masked any noise Jessie made as he descended.  Standing on the last branch, his tennis shoes were just over the man’s head.  He wasn’t coming down the same way he went up.
Like a cat lunging at its prey, Jessie leapt over Mr. Wilkins, somersaulted when he hit the ground, sprang to his feet, and disappeared into the darkness.  The sound stirred up the drunk man but by the time his eyes opened, he saw nothing.  Another successful mission for the Spy Guy.
By August we’d spied on most of the houses on Ribault Lane.  I thought what we were doing was sufficiently nuts, but Jessie said, “It’s time to eliminate the middleman.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m talking about the trees.”
“I still don’t know what you mean.”
“Why climb trees to spy on houses when you can climb the house?”
I thought about it for a moment.
“I don’t know, that sounds super risky.”
Jessie grinned.  “No problem bro, remember Rule 4.”
Spy Guy Rule Number 4 was “Don’t do anything you’re not sure of.”  After that, I was always the wing man.
Only some of the houses had features that allowed them to be scaled.  Usually it was a balcony or a covered patio that provided Jessie handholds on the way up.  He moved slowly and methodically, to not make noise.  He was half chimpanzee, half panther.
I could only marvel at Jessie’s skill and his lack of fear.  Climbing trees was one thing.  If someone saw him on the side of a house, he’d be in a heap of trouble.  There was no shortage of cooks, most likely, his mother would lose her job.
That became irrelevant when we found out he’d be moving soon.  His father had received a promotion and a transfer to an Army base in Texas.  Jessie and his mother would join him as soon as a new cook was hired. 
We saved the most spectacular adventure for last.  The Robesons owned the local bank and the only four story mansion on Ribault Lane.  The night before he moved, Jessie scaled their chimney, all the way to the roof.
Spiderman could take lessons from Jessie Planter.  Barefoot, he was able to get fingers and toes into the cracks and gaps in the old brick.  From where I watched, it was like some magic force  glued Jessie to the chimney. Slowly, he made his way to the roof.  A row of dormer windows became available for spying. Seeing him that high off the ground put butterflies in my stomach.  It didn’t bother him in the least.  He was grinning from ear to ear when he came down.
My career as a spy ended.  At least we were good at it, we never got caught.  According to Jessie’s documentation, we’d spied on twenty-four houses total, including the five Jessie had climbed.
I did my best to fight back the tears as I helped Jessie and his mother load their possessions into boxes.  He promised he would write as soon as they got settled in.  Somehow, I knew that wouldn’t happen.  I waved as the taxi carried them to the bus station.  I never saw him again.  But I would find out, Jessie wasn’t finished with Sea Island.
School started the week after he left.  Life resumed its predictable ways, with one exception.  After months of planning and constant chatter in the newspaper’s Society section, Mr. Robeson’s daughter was getting married.  They spared no expense.  The wedding and reception were too large for Sea Island and would be held in Brunswick.  My family got in on the action.  Mom, dad and I spent all day at the Heritage Club, setting up tables and preparing food for the reception.
Rich people know how to throw a party.  The band played, people danced, and the champagne poured like rain.  I stayed busy washing dishes and clearing tables. It was 4am by the time I got to bed.  I was dead tired but the money we earned made the long day worth the effort.
I slept late, the next day was Sunday.  When I got up, Ribault Lane was in bedlam.  What looked like the entire Sea Island police force was there.  News teams from area TV stations and papers where milling about, interviewing the residents.  Cameramen snapped photos and rolled film.
The night before, while we were at the wedding, five of the mansions on Ribault Lane had been burglarized.  Each one had been accessed by an upper floor window.  I was stunned when I realized, these were the same five Jessie had climbed a few weeks before.  I’d watched him peer into each of the windows that had been breached.  Everything fell into place.  I knew who committed the burglaries.  I was an unwitting accomplice.
My eleven year old brain was in no way prepared to figure out what to do.  That must have been written all over my face.  Momma knew something was up when I showed no interest in eating breakfast.
“Billy, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.  Is something wrong?”
I stared at the plate and moved food around with my fork.
“Young man, you know better than to ignore me when I’ve asked you a question.  You better start talking.”
I did.  “Momma, I know who broke into all the houses.  It was Jessie.”  Once I started, the whole story spilled out.  When I finished, my parents sat silently for a moment.  Then my father spoke.
“So, did Jessie actually break into any of the houses while you were playing your spying game?”
“No sir.”
“But you’re certain he climbed each of the houses that were burglarized?”
“Yes sir.”
“If we call the police, will you tell them what you told us?”
I paused.  “Yes sir.”
Momma made the call.  A knock on the door followed in a few minutes.
The man held up a badge.  “Ma’am, I’m Detective Williams with the Sea Island Police Department.  I understand you have some information about the burglaries?”
“Yes, my son does.”  She turned to me.  “Billy, tell the detective what you told us.”
I was terrified, but managed to blurt out, “Jessie did it!  My friend Jessie!”
The detective looked confused.  “How old is Jessie?”
“He’s eleven.”
The confused look got a bit darker.  “You’re telling me an eleven year old boy committed five burglaries in one evening?  Did he have any help?”
“Not that I know of.”
The man had taken off his hat when he stepped in the apartment.  He put it back on.  “I’ve seen a lot of crime scenes in my career and I can tell you, this was done by a team of professionals.  I’m finished here.”
He glared at me.  “Son, I’m a busy man.  If you’re smart, you won’t make the mistake of wasting my time again.”  He turned and walked out, not bothering with goodbye.
I stood there like a statue, completely stunned.  The day had spiraled out of control in a most bizarre fashion.
My father spoke.  “Billy, I believe you.  And you did the right thing.  Now, you should let this go.  Your best bet is to not speak about this to anyone.  Ever.”
It wasn’t hard to follow his advice.  I went to school the next day and kept my mouth shut.  The hoopla surrounding the burglaries calmed down in a few weeks.  Rich people don’t miss any meals because some of their valuables and loose cash got stolen.  Insurance policies covered the losses.
As the days passed, I got closer to convincing myself Jessie didn’t have anything to do with the burglaries.  After all, he was just a kid, and there was no evidence.  No evidence, until the weather turned cold.
Winters are short and mild along the Georgia coast.  Coats and gloves don’t leave the closet until late December.  That first cold morning, I found something that didn’t belong in my coat pocket.  Evidence.
The gold pocket watch, complete with chain, was old and very ornate.  I recognized it, even before I turned it over and saw the initials HGR.  A portrait of Hiram Gaines Robeson, chain dangling from pocket, hung in the lobby at the bank he founded. I’d walked past it many times.
Jessie left a note with his parting gift.  “Billy, thanks for all of your help.  I thought you would like this watch.  Keep it with you and it will be your good luck charm.  Don’t forget Rule 9.  Your friend, Jessie.”
Spy Guy Rule Number 9 was, “Always clean up behind yourself.”  I hid the watch and burned the note in the fireplace.
I knew I should return the watch but wasn’t sure how without drawing attention to myself.  It stayed hidden in my room until I graduated from high school.  At that point, I decided to take Jessie’s advice and keep it for good luck.  I was going to need it.  Like a growing number of young men, I’d just been drafted.  Soon, I found myself knee-deep in the hell that was the Vietnam War.
That part of my life I prefer not to think about.  Some memories are etched in your brain and will never go away.  I can’t say if the gold watch was lucky, but it stayed in my pocket.  I served two tours, got an honorable discharge, and came home in one piece. 
I woke up in a San Francisco hotel, hung over after a week of drinking.  For some reason, the watch was on my mind.  Wearing gloves to avoid fingerprints, I packed it in a box with the Robeson’s address.  When I dropped it in the mail I felt a sense of relief.
War is not something I would recommend to anyone.  But I survived, and the G.I. Bill opened the door for what my parents didn’t have.  A college education.  The accounting degree meant I’d never have to drive someone else’s kids to school, or wash dishes in their kitchen.  I consider my life to have been a success.
Jessie also found success, in his unique way.  The burglaries at Sea Island were just practice runs.  Much more spectacular jobs were his destiny.  I expected his work to get noticed.  When that happened, I wanted to know about it.
I started hanging out at the library reading room on Sunday afternoons.  It’s a good habit to have for many reasons, and gave me the opportunity to read newspapers from across the country.
An article in the Los Angeles Times in May, 1976 caught my eye.  A mansion in a posh neighborhood had been burglarized.  The house’s sophisticated alarm system had been disabled.  Access had been made through a third floor window.  The detective was quoted as saying, “Whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing.”  It had Jessie written all over it.
Of course, Jessie wasn’t the only smart burglar on the planet.  But I wanted it to be him.  I was hooked on the story.  Next Sunday I was at the library door when they opened.  I expected a followup story about how the police were frustrated because they had no leads.  I was way off.
Another similar burglary had been committed Tuesday, then a third on Friday.  In each case, the burglar or burglars got away clean, with a substantial amount of rich people loot.  The police were certain all were committed by the same team of highly experienced criminals.  I had no idea if Jessie worked alone or had partners.  But I didn’t doubt he could do this by himself.
In the following weeks, a pattern of burglaries in wealthy neighborhoods swept north up the coast.  San Francisco, Portland, Seattle.  Then east, through Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland.  The story quickly gathered national attention.  I didn’t need to go to the library to keep up, it was all over the TV.  Journalists were astonished that a string of burglaries could be committed so quickly and successfully.  I wasn’t surprised.  I had no trouble visualizing Jessie spending a decade or more planning this.
The evidence I’d been hoping for came in the form of a press release from the Philadelphia police.  During the last of three burglaries there, a cryptic message had been left, in lipstick, on a bathroom mirror.  They went public with the message, hoping someone would know what it meant.  I did.
Even on my tiny TV screen, I recognized Jessie’s handwriting: “Remember Spy Guy Rule Number 10.”
I’d never understood Rule 10.  It didn’t fit with the others.  But now it made sense.
Spy Guy Rule Number 10 was, “You gotta quit while you’re ahead.”  After stealing millions of dollars worth of diamonds, furs, and gold, Jessie was retiring.
I considered contacting the FBI.  That’s what you’re supposed to do, when you recognize a wanted criminal.  Then I remembered what happened the last time I ratted Jessie out.  I turned off the TV, picked up the phone, and ordered a pizza.

Submitted: March 15, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Criss Sole

I love all your stories, but i think this one is my favorite so far!
I was really hoping Jessie would not get caught... but was worried he was just asking for it.
Glad he knew when to quit! Must have made a pretty comfortable living doing what he loved.
Great story!

Mon, March 15th, 2021 2:12pm


Yay! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

Mon, March 15th, 2021 7:23am


A great story! I'm not doubting it's autofiction...

Mon, March 15th, 2021 9:42pm


Thanks for reading. There is always some truth inside my fiction...

Tue, March 16th, 2021 2:50am

D. Thurmond aka JEF

KFC would have been my choice. Oh, wait, they don't deliver. --- Great story.

Mon, March 15th, 2021 10:45pm


Sadly, there is no KFC in my tiny village. No Waffle House either. I have to console myself with Papa Gino's pizza. Thanks for reading.

Tue, March 16th, 2021 2:47am


As always well done and most enjoyable.

Thu, March 18th, 2021 8:20pm


Thanks for reading and shelving.

Fri, March 19th, 2021 3:03am

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