Adam hadn’t stolen anything since pocketing a bag of jelly babies in Woolworth’s towards the end of the seventies. The adrenaline rush, combined with the sugar from the stolen sweets, had been followed by such an onset of faintness and self-loathing that he immediately shelved his pubescent dream of becoming a career criminal. He had got away with it and that was enough.
Back then he could have bought the jelly babies had he wished to and their acquisition had been in no way life-changing. The theft he now planned in his forty-eighth year, however, was of an item that he was unable to purchase and that would avoid his life changing from one of fragile respectability to one of humiliating penury, largely due to his lamentable investment strategies. As for any subsequent self-loathing, he felt that age, experience, and his work as a solicitor had long cured him of such trifling emotions.
One of his clients was an ageing, unflattering philatelist called Mr Benson. Unflattering to Adam because the man held lawyers in even lower esteem than Adam himself did. Adam visited Mr Benson periodically at his Georgian town house and on successive visits observed how the old man’s mind and body crumbled before his eyes; the eyes that Mr Benson now increasingly depended on to read and reread what was to become the final codicil of his will.
There was money, there was property, there were stamps and there was the stamp. Mr Benson possessed an unused 1841 Twopenny Blue worth a preposterous amount of money and which would finally be left to his great-niece because, he said, it would cause the greatest amount of annoyance to the largest number of family members.
Mr Benson perceived during their conversations that, as well as being a lawyer, Adam also appeared to be a human being. He was flattered by the interest the younger man took in his collection and could often be prevailed upon to talk Adam through the more spectacular sections of it. Adam listened, apparently spellbound, to tales of heart-stopping auctions, startling acquisitions and devastating near misses which had occurred during the compilation of this neatly bound assortment of useless bits of paper. He had been shown the Twopenny Blue twice and had been suitably impressed by the stamp’s grandeur, not, however, becoming too emotional to fail to note the simple combination of the safe into which it was returned with trembling hands.
Adam’s cash-flow problems did not prevent the online purchase of a rather expensive postage stamp and, like any good family solicitor, his concerns regarding the health of his most valued client increased in proportion with Mr Benson’s diminishing vitality. On one of his visits he plied Mr Benson with sufficient tea for him to require a visit to the bathroom. The stamp that fluttered against Adam’s heart in his shirt pocket as he said goodbye was not the same one that had lain there during this and his last three visits, although it too had a nominal value of two pennies and that same old blue hue.
Mr Benson passed away that winter and his grand-niece was delighted with the computer games that the £150 she received for that silly stamp enabled her to buy. The twice-stolen Twopenny Blue was returned to its rightful owners in Gloucester and Adam’s two years in prison made him rue the day he walked out of Woolworth’s with the jelly babies.