Victor doesn't want to stop. He wants to go fast. With his parents' blessing, he moves to Arizona. His grandparents are plodders who shop at thrift stores. Victor makes up stories to impress his schoolmates about his rich parents back in Chicago. He picks up a movie camera on the cheap, then gets busted shoplifting film for it. His mom tells him he's headed for "juvie" and a life of thugdom, just like his old man.

His grades improve in Tucson, but there are battles in his new home, too, and he ends up bouncing back and forth between Arizona, Illinois and an uncle in St. Louis. He never finishes high school. He has a notion of joining the Marines, but that dream recedes as he starts piling up charges for theft. At first it's small stuff, mostly, that he cadges from his dead-end convenience-store jobs. One summer he works at an Illinois lakefront marina and steals gas that he delivers gratis to grateful relatives, friends and other boaters.

"It's been my history that I stole to become the hero, to buy love," Gabler says now. "Sometimes I did it to survive. But more often than not, what I steal is given away."

Vic Gabler in one of many police photos taken over the years.
Vic Gabler in one of many police photos taken over the years.

In 1991 Gabler and a friend are arrested in Arizona for helping themselves to some nice things from another friend's parents' house. Now twenty, Gabler gets the burglary whittled down to a simple theft-by-receiving case and receives probation. He blows off the probation and gets jail. Then he blows off a more tightly supervised probation and gets 67 days in prison.

The day he's released, he steals a car for a friend, then heads to Denver, where Rae and Tom now live. There are construction jobs aplenty at the new airport, and Victor lands a sweet but temporary spot on a maintenance crew taking care of runway pavers. He turns 21 and discovers, more or less simultaneously, booze, blackout drinking and strip clubs, a combination that drains his pockets as fast as he can fill them.

"I'm such an attention hound that I'll go to a bar and be the Super Bowl quarterback of drinking," he explains. "I'll drink so much so fast that people will be amazed, and I'll be the life of the party. And then I'll get in some kind of wreck. I didn't commit crimes on alcohol, but I'd usually get caught because of alcohol."

He also discovers seventeen-year-old Lori Clayton, and the two soon start a stormy, off-and-on relationship that lasts three years. Gabler doesn't drink much around Lori, but they argue frequently, and the arguments often get physical. "We started out with problems right away," Lori says. "It became very abusive, and I didn't know how to handle it at the time."

"All of our arguments were about me trying to find some shortcut in life," Gabler says.

The airport job ends. Gabler goes to work at Broadway Southwest in the Westminster Mall, writing up bogus deliveries of televisions and camcorders and stealing the place blind. He picks up his first DUI in Westminster, then a domestic-violence charge for assaulting Lori. While sitting in jail, he arranges to buy a stolen checkbook off another con. He uses it to buy stuff advertised by private parties in the classifieds, then hocks the stuff. Some wiseacre catches his license plate, and he winds up doing time in Jefferson County for forgery.

Lori visits him at the jail every day.

Behind bars, Gabler learns more scams. Another inmate explains a shoplifting deal that involves exchanging the stuff for gift cards, then selling the cards at a discount. When Gabler gets out, he tries the new con and eventually gets popped in Arapahoe County. More charges follow, including another domestic beef.

Lori leaves him.

Gabler bounces around. He's living in a Jeep and working at Pizza Hut. Then he's living with his parents again, until he throws a lawn decoration through a window during an argument with his mother. ("He's had some family issues, definitely," Rae says. "He beat the shit out of me once. I crawled to my neighbor's house." Gabler denies that he ever assaulted his mother.) In 1996 he heads back to Arizona, determined to drink himself to death. Instead, forced to deal with some of his probation violations, he wanders into a Tucson clinic in search of domestic-violence classes — and someone notices that he's talking 200 miles an hour and takes him to a shrink, who tells him he's having a manic episode.

"I think you're bipolar," the shrink says. "You need to be evaluated for medication."

Gabler doesn't know how to take the off-the-cuff diagnosis. It was, he would later explain, "like going through a Taco Bell drive-thru, and they say, 'Hey, you're bipolar!'"

He doesn't want to be labeled, doesn't want to be stuffed with drugs. He heads out of there, back to the gang of thieves he knew from the old days. The gang is now exploring new frontiers in the realm of credit fraud — stealing credit cards, creating new identities and credit lines, and riding the online shopping explosion.

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