Baker’s dough

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. Life is composed of lights & shadows…we would be untruthful…if we tried to pretend there were no shadows.” Walt Disney

You’ll think you’ve heard this story before, or watched a dozen movies with a similar plot. It’s unlikely you have, unless you were part of the Baker’s Dozen Diamond Heist back in 2009. That’s not what the feds called it; they kept the humiliating theft on the Q.T. It barely got a mention by news outlets, and the few stories they ran were worthless, full of conjecture. What you need to know is that the feds list it, nearly 10 years later, as an unsolved crime. Sure, plenty people were interviewed and accused, but not a single arrest was made. Now how do I know this? Easy there, don’t go jumping to conclusions, I wasn’t one of Baker’s Dozen, or the cousin, and I’m not a fed. Still, I know how they did it. I know who they were. This story’s been busting to be told, so here goes.

Just like the 1950 Brink’s Robbery or the 2003 Antwerp Diamond & Jewels Heist, meticulous planning was involved. But they still got caught and served time, though perhaps up to $75M has never been recovered. Baker’s Dozen have never been caught. I like to think it’s because while there was plenty of thievery involved, there wasn’t a plug nickel of greed among any of those men. I can share now that after Baker’s investors were paid back, all out of pocket expenses were reimbursed, and the Joe’s and their families got the surgery and medicine they needed, the rest of the diamond money went to carefully selected charities and folks the government or some unscrupulous money grabbing corporation cheated. That money did lots of good.

I guess a few of them took to robbing like fire takes to a dry pile of leaves. Heck, maybe they even held ol Hermes in high regard. Though the gods have fallen from favor, if you had to name someone around when the whole stealing thing started, Hermes would be a good choice. He had lots of titles—messenger of the gods, guardian of roadways, and on account of his speed, psychopomp, a $10 word for a person that hauls the dearly departed to the hereafter. Hermes came and went as he pleased between this world, the sky world, and the underworld. He could also get inside minds. Hermes was mighty eloquent, and he could play a mean lyre, though he gave his to Apollo to appease him after he stole his cattle. Apollo forgave him and gave Hermes some magical pipes. Now they say his fondness for stealing was a weakness, but I think that’s just part of his trickster persona.

He sure was a rascal, hooked up with plenty of pretty famous ladies, and some of his kids were written up in the history books. He could outthink most all the other gods. His dad was Zeus and best guess is his mom was a daughter of the Titan Atlas (one of the original 12). He was the great-grandad of Odysseus; his daughter Peitho was the epitome of persuasion and seduction arts. Rumor has it he was also Pan’s father. The man loved to travel, and his god props made it easy. He had a pair of winged sandals, a winged hat, and sometimes sprouted wings from his shoulders and flew. He also had an ornate staff, called a caduceus, which was intertwined with two snakes and another pair of wings. It was more of a magic wand—come to think of it, it might have been the original magic wand. It could undo spells or send someone far away.   

How Hermes came to be the god of thieves is a bit complicated. He sure stole a bunch of hearts. He was king of the cattle rustlers, and talk about precocious, he stole Apollo’s cattle the day he was born. From early on, he was identified as a god of deception and was real good at persuasion and word manipulation. Kind of a given thieves and scam artists would adopt and emulate him. He was also real good with animals, and could charm man and beast alike. Yep, he had many titles; one of the best was thrice great Hermes. At least, that’s what the Egyptians, Arabian, and Renaissance muckety-mucks called him. They wrote magical books that tried to capture the veiled wisdom he spouted about stuff like alchemy, astrology, and binding spells. That makes sense because remember his dad in law was Atlas, the Titan that touched the skies, and knew its secrets. They don’t ever say what happened to ol Hermes. Did he lose interest in mortals? I suspect he still checks in every now and then.

OK, I went a might off trail, but old Hermes figures in the story of how Baker’s Dozen came to pull off one of the most perfect crimes ever. The first thing I noticed was they were older than the other folks that gathered at the café to share a meal, take a break, or pick up a ta-go order. Other than that, they seemed to be regular Joe’s—I mean that literally. It was what initially got my attention. Except for Baker, they called each other some form of Joe, like Peppe, Ossie, Jody, JoeQ, or Mojo. Now one or two of them could have actually been named Joe—but I figured—unless this was some sort of a We Are Joe secret brotherhood, they all couldn’t be named Joe. I did recollect clowns called each other Joey’s after Joseph Grimaldi, a London stage pantomime that wore white face paint; he was a kind of father figure for clowns. In respect and remembrance, clowns called themselves Joey’s. Then I wondered if the Joe’s were fans of Dr Seuss’ Cat in the Hat tricksters, Thing 1 and Thing 2? Nah, that didn’t make any sense.

So I counted them; it was always a group of 12 white and grey haired old men plus Baker, and I named them Baker’s Dozen. From bits of early conversations, I could tell they had worked hard, followed the rules, paid their bills on time, raised and educated children, and lived—carefully, conscientiously. With their newly minted retirement checks from Uncle Sam and corporation pension plans, they should have been looking forward to enjoying old age. But after listening in for a few weeks, that wasn’t the case.

They typically wore plain, plaid flannel, or wool checkboard shirts and khakis or jeans. A few had expensive outerwear—waterproof, feather down jackets, soft leather gloves, and sturdy shoes. Everyone wore a hat too. Baker’s was more a cap, a blend of tweed with a rim of suede. About half of them wore baseball caps in various colors but get this, not a single cap bore any sports or place insignias. The caps did a good job hiding facial features, and they kept their heads down in general, except for Baker.

Sometimes they engaged in cheery chatter about Indians, winter weather, sailing, grilling, philosophy, and how to keep up with technology and some of the bright new inventors. Other days they talked about old man realities, dentures, failing eyesight, aching limbs, and our broken health care system. The chubby guy they called Cujo was always cracking jokes. He said now he was old, he knew two things: never pass up using a public bathroom or trust a fart. He was a scream. They talked the most about diamonds—mining techniques and market places, how much easier it was to create industrial diamonds now, and where diamonds could be fenced-hypothetically.

I wondered more than once why there were 12 of them—and entertained all sorts of notions. Were they part of a crafty coven or the 12 apostles of Joe or representatives from the 12 tribes of Israel? I thought I was on to something when they got into a discussion of crime and punishment. I was nearly convinced they’d been 12 members of a jury and formed some sort of bro-hood after the fact. Another day they talked about mythology and the Greek Gods, including ol Hermes, and I thought OK Heracles did those 12 labors, maybe they were laboring over something big. I wasn’t far from wrong.

Ever since my accident, I had to adjust to doing things somewhat differently. Though I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, I came out of the experience with a settlement just big enough to keep body and soul fed, clothed, and housed. I would always limp, however, the damage to my ear drum necessitated getting fitted with a tiny little piece of technology that made my hearing ten times better than before. It sort of gave me a superpower—I could hear a whisper across a crowded room and the rustle of a deer in the woods brushing past a tangle of spindly sassafras trees. If I sat in just the right spot, I could hear every word spoken by Baker’s Dozen.

I spent several afternoons a week in that cafe. It was a real find, clean, well lit, with friendly staff that didn’t care if you stayed for hours nursing cups of coffee or tea while you played Solitaire or read blogs on your laptop. It was where I came to escape the overthinking I did when I was alone in my cracker box sized condo. The café had free wifi and awesome views of the Rocky’s. I looked forward to hearing what those men would discuss. Truth is, I was fascinated.

They were smart, well-traveled, and educated. One afternoon, I eavesdropped on a conversation the Joe’s were having about ‘workin for the man.’ The guy they called Peppe said, “only lately have I begun appreciating not working. Why did I ever think it was important to work for a company that was stealing my life and getting away scot free? The 19th century was full of Robber Barons and nothing’s changed except now they wear suits and ride in limos. It’s actually worse now—they rob our minds as well.”

Joey replied he didn’t disagree, and added that when a company like Standard Oil went from giant to monster, the government broke it into more than 30 pieces. He asked why the government wasn’t doing the same with our 21st century technical behemoths, aka monopolies. He also thought being self-sufficient—fulfilling noble purposes—was what was most important.

“Yeah, well you had your own business,” Ossie interjected, “I was an underpaid working stiff for over 20 years. The bureaucracy was unreal. There wasn’t any ‘life-libertyhappiness’ pursuit—it was just one long ‘game of drones.’ So every summer I renovated a fixer upper and sold or rented it—took almost 25 years before I could quit the day job.”

Another of the Joe’s not in my direct line of vision said, “I became a time counter. After five years at my bleeping company, I got nearly four weeks of vacation and two weeks personal leave, but there was always a work crisis that prevented me from taking more than a few days off. I figured out I’d have to work there for another dozen years before I could take six months off with pay. But it doesn’t work that way—you don’t use it, you lose it. I had no power. They were robbing me, sucking out my marrow until I realized I it was up to me to do something about it.”

At this point Baker spoke up, “Exactly right gentlemen, you’ve told me what they did to you. Are you going to sit here like a bunch of wimpy, lilly-assed loafers, or are you going to get some justice? It’s time” he stated.

That conversation really piqued my interest. There they sat at a rectangular sort of round table, 12 would be knights or Don Quixote’s fed up like I was and ready to joust the system and slay a modern day monster. I got the tail end of justice after my accident but it came at a high cost.

Ossie asked, “So which of these big business tech fat cats are you talking about?”

Names were mentioned we’ve all heard about. We probably don’t even realize how much they manipulate our choices and quality of life. Then Baker interrupts the conversation and says just one word: “Disney.”

I know, it may sound like sacrilege to even consider stealing from ‘the happiest place on earth,’ so let me tell you about ol Walt’s legacy and proclivities. And just how happy do you think folks are that spend $1000s of dollars for a hotel onsite and a 1-3 day pass to those four ‘magical’ Disney Kingdoms, so they can sweat profusely standing in lines for hours while swatting mosquitos the size of humming birds, and listening to whiny kids begging for mickey ears and a watch to match? They pay extortionist prices for food, parking, and the privilege of being ‘disneyfied.

For the next half hour, the men sounded more like conspiracy theorists trying to out conspire each other. Guissepe asked if they’d heard of the link between Mickey Mouse, Walt, and a bunch of thieves. “No, well when the Beggar’s Opera opened in the 1720s, it was based on the life of outlaw, thief, and escape artist Jack Sheppard. He became a sort of folk hero so the stiff lipped Brits made it illegal to say his name. Flash forward to 1931, when the Berlin branch of Warner Brother Pictures produced a film version of the opera; they called it the The Three Penny Opera. The thief was named Macheath, and they expanded his crime and killing repertoire and gave him a big old sharp knife. His German nickname was Mackie Messer (Mack the Knife). Doesn’t that sound like Micky Mouse to you? And guess what, Walt was in Germany in the 1930s. ”

Ossie begged to differ. He’d heard Walt wanted to name his mouse Mortimer. He remembered from college German and French classes the name Moritate translates to ‘morality ballad’ in German and Mortimer translates to ‘dead sea’ in French. He could see why that didn’t work, and recalled Walt’s wife Lillian thought Mickey was a better name. Ossie adjusted his cap and added there was also a Steamboat Willie mouse character Walt produced back in the late 1920’s.

Mojo jumped in, “Nah, I smell a cover up. You’re correct Giuseppe, Walt was in Germany in the early 30s. There’s even a rumor he met Hitler, and why not. Several American companies were doing business with Germany then—including a company a former President’s family supported. I think Baker’s picked a multimedia conglomerate well known for its anti-labor union, anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-pay people what they’re worth perspective. I won’t even mention what their Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was originally supposed to represent.” They shook their heads in agreement and (I suspect) disgust.

Now Baker wasn’t actually targeting old Walt’s legacy or what got passed on to the technocrats, shareholders, and investors after he died. You see, Baker got wind of an exclusive showing at a Disney Convention Center of let’s say a few million shy of a 100 million in raw diamonds. Raw diamonds are the best kind to steal since these diamonds haven’t been fingerprinted or marked in any way. According to their website, Disneyworld boasts six dedicated convention centers and a whole lot of entertainment venues. Events held at a Disney resort usually sell out quickly. That same weekend, this Disney Center was also hosting a big National Arts and Craft Fair in the lobby and several of the ballrooms. Baker said Orlando was the perfect place to relieve a bunch of crooks of their little sparklers. Disneyworld was an ideal place, with just the right combination of greed, guilt, and giddiness. It’s Camp chaos ground zero for grown up kids.

Orlando, which was originally named Jernigan, was another of those hallowed bloody grounds, a place that soaks up blood like biscuits soak up gravy. Or do some places demand blood sacrifices or have the ability to lure the unsuspecting there and let nature do the rest? There’s Spanish, French, British, and American blood saturating the soil, mixed in with cattle, buffalo, wild pigs, alligators, and wolf blood; and saddest of all is the Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw blood, most of which should never have been shed.

Another odd thing, since Disneyland opened in the 70s, there’s been over 40 curious deaths, and a whole bunch of unfortunate injuries. Anyway, you get the picture; it’s a place of magic and mayhem. Theft at Disneyworld, on the other hand, is lower than you might think. Disney has a security force that wear uniforms and folks that work under cover. They have a bunch of staff that walk around to ensure employees are acting in accordance with Disney mandates, safety rules are being followed, and customers are smiling. In fact, Disney has both an onsite police and fire station and more surveillance cameras than a case of champagne has bubbles.

The newspapers said Disney was determined to create an East Coast version of Disneyland. On one of many scouting expeditions, he gazed down from his airplane seat and saw how Interstate 4 intersected with the Florida Turnpike and was located near McCoy Air Force Base. McCoy was used as a WWII training base and for testing/ storage of chemical munitions; it also had an airport. In 1975, McCoy closed and Orlando airport opened. Walt discretely inquired about the price of the swampy, marshy land surrounding Osceola and Orange counties. This was where he’d build his new kingdom, though heavy smoker Walt was running out of time. He created dummy corporations so he could buy the fairly worthless land dirt cheap, but someone caught wind of what he was doing and he didn’t get all the land at cut rate prices. The mucky swampland got filled in with soil scooped out to create Seven Seas lagoon/lake. Damn, Baker had done his homework; it was hard to not lean forward to soak up every word and pretend to be riveted to my laptop screen.

Baker continued, “Disneyworld is where we make our own magic. I seriously considered the Gemology Conference in Vegas. The greedy, unscrupulous Spanish conquistadors at one point thought Vegas was El Dorado. They were just 500 years too early. It has plenty of riches. Unfortunately, no place, including Fort Knox, is more secure than Vegas. It’s far too risky. In Disneyworld, we got giggling kids running amok, grownups reenacting 2nd or 3rd childhoods, overheated employees dressed in animal and comic costumes, and the government trying to sell ill-gotten gains to best Russian aggressors and finance more covert operations. We know we’ll be watched; we’ll use that to our advantage. It’s perfect.”

“But what about our get away?”

“Easy, we’ll blend in casually, enjoy a few of the attractions, and leave separately by car. I know some Indians we can trust. They’ll swap our cars out and help dispose of our getups.”

“What’s our diversionary tactic?” Giuseppe asked.

“Not quite sure, what about sexual provocativeness?” Baker grinned,” right from Hermes playbook.”

“In Disneyworld? Are you daft?” Mojo spouted.

“You know I’m right. Young or old—we don’t stop thinking about it. We get old; sex never does.”

GI Joe asked, “Which one of us still oozes sex appeal? Or will we spring a ravishing young beauty from a cake laced with pheromone frosting, or dress her up as a mermaid and get her to skinny dip in a fountain to divert attention?”

Baker replied, “Well, it ain’t you with the sex appeal, ya hairy ol codger. We’ll recruit Joe’s widow, and it wouldn’t hurt to spray the air to get people in the right mood. Disney does it all the time.”

This wasn’t idle talk anymore. They were actually planning a heist. But when and how exactly? This was the first time they mentioned a woman. It turns out Joe’s widow was Baker’s cousin. That’s when it got real interesting. That day I damn near went over to their table. I wanted in, but how could I help them?

I knew a bit about diamonds and diamond merchants, having once considered proposing to a girl, except she was a might too curious about my financial worth. Also, besides the obvious mutual attraction, we didn’t have much in common at all. That was one close call I don’t aim to repeat.

The whole reason diamonds are a girl’s best friend and graphite, a diamonds close cousin isn’t, goes back to the depression years, Hollywood, and the emerging sophistication of persuasive advertising. Hollywood knew diamonds glittered loudest onscreen and represented the ultimate glamour. Actors were encouraged by companies like De Beers to borrow priceless diamond jewelry to wear to a screening or party. A thousand years ago, betrothal rings were simple bands of iron or silver, though the wealthy could afford gold and a gemstone or two. Rubies, resembling the color of the heart, were especially popular. Diamond rings were exchanged too since they were alleged to protect the wearer and sparkled with star like brilliance. In the 1800’s, new mining techniques were developed, and caches of diamonds discovered in India, South Africa, Australia, and South America were highly prized. Only a few knew about diamond reserves in other parts of the world. Baker was one of them; he was aware of diamond reserves kept hidden so the market could be manipulated. But I’m ahead of the story and getting off topic.

In the 1940s, Ol De Beers spent a chunk of kaching promoting the idea ‘a diamond is forever.’ Story was they had a mess of diamonds so prices were low, but people recovering from the depression and years of war rationing weren’t buying their gems. The ads they created sold the idea that she’d know how big your love was by the size of the diamond. Since marriage was supposed to be forever, what better symbol than a nearly indestructible diamond? Jewelers made sure you were educated on the four aspects of diamonds too. It worked and it’s been working ever since. Just don’t get me started on the unethical abuses and corruption diamond companies like De Beers have perpetrated.

Looking back, I see it was a cumulative set of regrettable circumstances that forced Baker to consider pulling a diamond heist with a group of men that were the polar opposite of the dirty dozen. Unfortunately, about half the men had either been cheated out of their pensions by unscrupulous companies or swindled by shady investors and con men. A few of them or someone in their immediate family had a serious health issue their insurance wasn’t covering. Joe’s widow, well, she’d been attacked and robbed in her home less than three months after her husband died. I never learned her name, only that she was Baker’s cousin, and together they tracked down the burglars and retrieved what they’d stolen.

You can look at thievery from 100 different angles. If you’re philosophical, you might call aging and disease the theft of time.  If you like baseball, stealing 3rd base is a good thing. Not all thieves are like the murderous cannibals depicted in gruesome fairy tales like the Jack the Giant Killer, Hansel & Gretel, or The Robber’s Bride. In yonder days when property was scarce, penalties were harsh. What could be locked up—was, including a women’s nether regions with a chastity belt she couldn’t unlock. They made thou shall not steal a commandment and thieves that got caught could lose a hand, ear, or their life. In Ireland, they wrote an epic called the Tain Bo Cuailnge about the heist of a prize bull, broken oaths, greed, and holding grudges. In Hollywood, the thief got a whole new makeover. Robin Hood and Captain Blood became hero robbers that stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Danny Ocean, Simon Templar, and Cary Grant made crime seem glamorous, as did Thomas Crown and Neal Caffrey.

Whether you’re a natural born thief or come to it by circumstance, there’s a code you got to observe. The tradition goes way back and includes figuring out who you should steal from and how you should share the booty. So the first things Baker did was figure out who had the most ill-gotten gains and could afford to part with some of it. The answer that kept popping up was dear old Uncle Sam, especially agencies where checks and balances weren’t checked or balanced. Baker knew a thing or two about covert agencies and black budget funding on account of his beyond top secret clearances. He thought the only thieves worse than Uncle Sam was a group called Thuggees. They lured unwary travelers into journeying with them, and then strangled, robbed, and buried their victims. They claimed they’d been authorized by Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, to rob and kill to support themselves and their families. They claimed over a million victims and succeeded for centuries via a high degree of teamwork, planning, and secret signals. Baker was adamant this heist would involve no violence. 

Then it got real confusing—can’t say I understood half of what Baker told the Joe’s that day. The diamonds being auctioned off at this meeting had been smuggled out of Canada’s largely unexplored frozen tundra and Siberian mines in the mid 90’s. Most of the cache was untouched, though a few dozen gems had been sold, for a fraction of their worth, to diamond bootleggers to finance various covert ops.

Months in advance, several of the Joe’s, using fake ID’s Baker supplied, rented booths at the Convention Center; Baker’s cousin made their hotel arrangements. Ossie would showcase his hand crafted knives; GI Joe would give a water filtration system demo in his booth; two of the other Joe’s manned a booth that sold fantasy and comic book costumes and accessories. Baker’s cousin’s booth would give out free food samples of love buns, caramel caress cookies, and recipe cards. Her booth had a generous supply of cooking oil and three electric fryers. Baker wouldn’t wear a disguise, though he was the one exchanging the real diamonds for the fakes. Joe-D, who held patents for environmental chambers, autoclaves, and other machines adapted by the gem industry, would supply about ten pounds of industrial diamonds and several handfuls of cubic zirconium stones.

Every Joe had a task and half of them wore disguise. Ossie wore fake tattoos, a black long sleeve shirt and leather vest despite the 90 degree temperature, and a brown wig with a ponytail that stuck out of a cap sporting the word Bowie. GI Joe wore a curly blond wig and nose prosthetic that made him look like a wilder version of Willy Wonka. Baker’s cousin, who had once been a Vegas magician’s assistant, donned a sleek strawberry blond pageboy wig with bangs and silver rimmed glasses, as well as five pounds of padding around her middle. She also assisted the men with their getups.

I wanted to stand up and applaud. If Baker’s Dozen could pull this off, they were stinking geniuses. They met one more time to discuss who would fence the diamonds and where. I can’t reveal all the details for another few years. I will say it involved Indians, a cruise ship with a celebrity guest chef that used his own personal truffle infused oil, and stops in Amsterdam, Dubai, and Hong Kong.

Baker’s Dozen were absent from the café for about two weeks, and then one day, they were back. They told one of the server’s they’d been moose and elk hunting in Montana, but all they caught were vermin. Their chatter was animated and Cujo got off a few zingers like hey, I have a new illness—saloon arthritis—every night I get stiff in a new joint. I was too tense to laugh; I had to know more details.

Joe-D said, “Did you hear the feds think one of the robbers went to Greece to offload his share of the diamonds? They have Interpol and the International Criminal Court involved. The stories circulating are sounding more like the Antwerp Job—they don’t know whether a few mill or 100 mill was stolen. That was one heck of an adventure. Over a thousand folks on love bun sugar highs and Nitrous Oxide, wearing sparkly tiaras, sequined tutus and capes, and brandishing rubber, rhinestone adorned swords. They ran six ways to Sunday when the suits swooped down the stairs waving real firearms and screaming nobody move. Who do you think it was that shouted bomb? It was right out of a Marx Brothers movie.” He chuckles and most of the table erupts in laughter.

Baker said, “As long as the police continue to follow the clues and chase shadows, the thieves have nothing to worry about.”

They had done it, a bunch of old men that started out complaining and admonishing themselves for their naiveté. They couldn’t reverse time and kick the can or the butts of the thugs that stole from or cheated them; they could and they did get even. Now ol Baker knew I’d been listening in for months. The day they returned, he walked over to my table, sat opposite me, and shook my hand. Even though I’d never told anyone at the café my name, and always paid in cash, he knew it. He also knew I wrote freelance articles, and said I had potential. Baker got right to the point and asked me if I would write down all I’d heard and thought I knew about Baker’s Dozen, but wait 10 years to publish my story. My eyes got as big as a pair of billiard balls.

“In the meantime kid,” he said, “I want you to use the stipend in this envelope to hone your writing skills; get out into the world and explore. We’ll top that off next year, and trust you’ll tell our story properly. Remember, making a living should never be confused with actually living. As always, we value your discretion; honor the code.”

I took a sip of tea and scalded the roof of my mouth.”

Baker started to push back his chair.

Words tumbled out like stunt men staggering from a rolling barrel. “Wait,“ I said, “I’ll do what you asked. But I have to know. How did you manage to steal diamonds from a secure room full of armed feds and covert ops experts, and sheiks with bodyguards and a hotel security?”

Baker leaned in, “I could tell you I used inside connections to distract them, or worked a switch and bait con. Or, I could tell you we made it all up. You sure you want the truth?”

I gulped and nodded.

“I’m descended from a long line of thieves, connivers, and stargazers—a line that traces backs to the gods I’m told. Did you know flawless diamonds used to be called ‘tears of the gods?’ Some say they left them for folks treated unfairly to help balance the scales. I didn’t know any of those men six months ago. They invited me to join them, even bought me a drink. It didn’t take long to see they were honest engineers, teachers, and inventors the system had cheated. You might say I had a calling to help them.

The original 12 gods of Greek mythology were given magical artifacts by primordial beings the gods freed from Tartarus. According to the myths, the gods swapped their artifacts and occasionally lent them to mortals. Some of the artifacts were stolen by cunning thieves. Clever Hermes managed to acquire a magical winged wand and matching sandals, and a winged cap granting invisibility to the wearer. Believe what you will, I’m descended from Hermes’ illustrious family; so’s my cousin.

She lent me the winged cap, which essentially refracts light to give the illusion of invisibility for shorts spurts of time. Science hasn’t caught up with technology the ancients knew. I entered the room when the door opened to admit one of the sheiks. There was only one fed guarding the box in the bedroom. I used a popular CIA knock-out spray to disable the fed out for a few minutes while I made the switch. I spread about 1/10 of the real diamonds on top of their box and exited the suite when the door opened to admit a room service cart filled with trays of pastries and sandwiches. It took five minutes for the feds to realize they hadn’t ordered room service and ten minutes in total to conclude they’d been robbed. By that time, I’d pressed through the crowd and emptied the diamonds into the jugs of oil, and the Joe’s had loaded anything from the booths that might have their DNA in the cars. They helped my cousin carry out and secure the oil in her station wagon, and we left.

Except for GI Joe–he took his time disassembling his filtration gadgets. The attendees were helping themselves to the costumes, accessories, and food left behind. GI Joe was our McGuff, and both the feds and the local police questioned him, and carted off his equipment. When he was released, he drove his car to the reservation and handed the guy stoking the bonfire his keys. He pulled off his disguise and feed the items to the fire, just as we had earlier. Then he retrieved his personal car and headed west.

Baker sat back in his chair. “If you believe extraordinary magic exists, then that’s exactly how we did it. If you don’t, no answer will suffice.” Then he returned to his table and a few minutes later Baker and the Joe’s left.

I stared at their empty chairs until the servers cleared the mugs and plates and rearranged the tables. Then I peered into the fat legal sized brown envelope, stuffed with $50 and $100 US bills, as well as euros and pounds. I guessed there was around $50 thousand in the envelope. I guessed low; there was twice that amount. I pulled out a $50 dollar bill and slipped it under my mug.

As I exited the café, I glanced back. Now in both biblical tales and Greek myths, it’s a terrible thing to look back. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt, Orpheus lost his love Eurydice, and Demeter’s daughter Persephone looked back while exiting the underworld and ate a few pomegranate seeds. As a result, she has to spend half her year in Hades. Baker showed me that sometimes when you look back the view widens. You can see your progress and mistakes, ancestors, roads not taken that might have deadended you, and barely perceptible paths you might want to try now you have some wisdom. Ol Confucius said reflection was the noblest way to learn wisdom.

When I started hanging out at the café, I was caught up in my own drama. The Joe’s taught me champions don’t just live in comic books and retold myths. Baker’s still an enigma—did he expect me to accept he wore a magic cap to steal the diamonds? I looked up the phrase baker’s dozen. In medieval times, if they thought a baker cheated or ‘light loafed’ a customer, they might cut off an ear or a hand. So bakers started adding a bun or a loaf—typically 12 from today, and 1 from yesterday—from the past. I need to cogitate on that. One last thing, I discovered why they called themselves Joe’s; appears it was an acronym for Justice Owed Everyone.